Dr. Jeanne A. Petrek, a prominent surgeon and expert on pregnancy-associated breast cancer, was killed in an accident on April 11. She was 57.
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Petrek received her bachelor’s and medical degrees from Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. After doing her internship and residency in surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, she landed a surgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City.
In the early 1980s, Petrek taught surgery classes at Emory University School of Medicine and served on staff at Grady Memorial and Emory University hospitals. She returned to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1984 as an assistant attending surgeon and continued her academic career as a professor of surgery at Cornell University School of Medicine.
For the past two decades, Petrek specialized in treating pregnancy-associated breast cancer and studied the causes of lymphedema, a swelling in the arm and hand that can develop after the removal of certain lymph nodes. In an effort to improve her patients’ quality of life, she countered the aftereffects of cancer therapy with hormonal and other treatments.
The compassionate physician directed the surgical program of the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and personally treated more than 4,000 patients. To determine whether it was safe for a young woman to get pregnant after breast cancer, Petrek also conducted a 10-year, federally-funded study on the changes in ovarian function resulting from breast cancer treatment. She followed the histories of 800 women under the age of 44 who had undergone chemotherapy. Preliminary findings of the study will be reported to the American Society of Clinical Oncology next month.
Petrek was on her way to work when she was struck by an ambulette while crossing the street at the intersection of 2nd Ave. and E. 64th St. in New York City. Eight construction workers lifted the vehicle off of Petrek, but she died in surgery a few hours later. The driver, who said she was blinded by the sun, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.