Dr Susanna F Greer of V Foundation for Cancer Research On The 5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readAug 31, 2022


Progress happens a little at a time. When Jim Valvano stood on the ESPYs stage and announced the founding of the V Foundation, he said something prescient — that funding research may not save his life but could save his children’s lives. Years later, his daughter Jaime faced her own cancer fight. Jamie has been cancer free for over 15 years. Stories like this play out all over the country every day. While there may not be just one “cure” for cancer out there, the continued work of researchers all over the world means more survivors and more stories like the Valvano family.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. There is so much great information out there, but sometimes it is very difficult to filter out the noise. What causes cancer? Can it be prevented? How do you detect it? What are the odds of survival today? What are the different forms of cancer? What are the best treatments? And what is the best way to support someone impacted by cancer?

In this interview series called, “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer” we are talking to experts about cancer such as oncologists, researchers, and medical directors to address these questions. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Susanna F. Greer.

Susanna Greer, Ph.D., is the Chief Scientific Officer at the V Foundation for Cancer Research. She works with the V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee to steer funding to the most promising research opportunities, enhance the V Foundation’s research portfolio, and further improve communications about the impact of that research. Greer will play a vital role on the Foundation’s executive team as the organization triples its fundraising goals over the next 10 years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you give some background on your story?

The terrible thing about cancer is it’s unfairness. None of us will be untouched by cancer; whether we are personally diagnosed, or it’s someone we love, or someone we know in our community. When I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of my closest friends was Dr. Leslie Huye, who was a postdoc in a neighboring lab. Leslie was a brilliant cancer researcher, funny, beautiful, and a young wife and mom. I was grateful for her, our friendship, and her support, was unwavering. When, after we both moved on to faculty positions, we stayed in close contact, visited each other’s homes and families, and texted/talked often. During those early, hard years as a faculty member, Leslie was one of my only friends who understood exactly what it was like to have a very young family and to simultaneously be starting a cancer research program. Leslie was very athletic, she’d been a competitive swimmer in high school, and when a nagging hip pain interfered with her from running, she began a journey that ultimately, and tragically, resulted in her diagnosis, and all too soon, death from sarcoma. I was gutted. All these years later, I still think about how much living Leslie had to do. She was an incredible wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, and cancer researcher. If cancer could so viciously take Dr. Leslie Huye, then I had found my enemy. I’ve gone on to experience many cancer losses, but this first loss, and its glaring injustice, left a permanent scar.

This is not easy work. What is your primary motivation and drive behind the work that you do?

Cancer has touched nearly every single person in this country, whether you have experienced it first-hand or have known someone else diagnosed. I am no exception. It is an ugly disease, and it has no mercy. It affects all ages, from our children to our grandparents. There are some populations in which it is particularly brutal.

I am a scientist and I have seen what research can do against cancer. I have spent my career working with other scientists to develop better tools to fight with. We must continue to fund the science that will solve the problem of cancer.

For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of Cancer?

I have spent 27 years in the field of cancer research — both conducting it and supporting other scientists in their advancements against the disease.

Cancer used to almost be a death sentence, but it seems that it has changed today. What are the odds of surviving cancer today?

Surviving cancer today depends on a lot of factors. Not everyone has the same access to care or ability to focus on their health when they need to. Even if you were to level the playing field in those regards, the type of cancer and stage at which you were diagnosed would play a significant role in your outcome. The V Foundation is funding research that helps improve access to care for some communities. We are also funding research into early detection, as well as developing tools to find cancer earlier and offer more targeted therapies to treat it. Certainly, your chances of surviving cancer today compared to just 20–30 years ago are improved for several forms of the disease. But we need to better understand why some cancers are still so hard to treat. And we need to understand why there are still so many disparities in outcomes.

Can you share some of the new cutting-edge treatments for cancer that have recently emerged? What new cancer treatment innovations are you most excited to see come to fruition in the near future?

Immunotherapy is proving to be a game changer. Healthy immune systems already seek and destroy cancer cells in our body. When the cancer can hide or mutate, our immune systems are no longer able to fight it effectively on their own. Immunotherapy can teach immune cells to kill cancer. It can be helpful to adults and children facing cancer.

Immunotherapy wakes up our immune system and is used in combination with other therapies like chemotherapy or radiation.

Research is still needed to determine which patients would benefit most from immunotherapy — it’s not something we see work in every patient. When it is successful, it is wonderful. But we don’t know yet why some see benefit and others don’t.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

Specific cancers don’t live in silos. One thing people may not know is that when you make progress against one cancer, that may translate to progress against other cancers. The V Foundation aims to fund the absolute best research and we do that through a highly competitive process. When we receive proposals, we aim to fund the ones that will make the biggest impact in the cancer space, regardless of cancer type. You may see us fund a little more in one area than another from year to year. But research is shared more now than ever and advances in one cancer may mean we will see successes in other cancers.

Thank you so much for all of that. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what are your “5 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

Catching cancer early can save your life. 1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women in the U.S. can expect to face cancer in their lifetime, so it is important to be vigilant. Researchers are continually developing better screening tools and learning more about prevention and early detection and these tools have helped increase survival rates. Consider Prem Aithal, who, at age 28, heeded the advice of a close friend and saw a doctor when early signs of testicular cancer surfaced. His quick action combined with advancements in research meant that after surgery, he moved forward with no evidence of disease. While screening tools are in place for many cancers, researchers are continuing to work on ways to detect quiet cancers earlier. Developing more tools like the ones we have — mammography, self-exams, colonoscopies and biopsies — for a wider range of cancers will mean higher survival rates.

There are over 18 million cancer survivors living in the United States. Treatment options and survival rates for cancer patients have improved significantly due to research. Mortality rates from cancers such as lung, breast, prostate, colorectal, and melanoma have declined between 26% to 53% over the last 18+ years. This has been made possible thanks to breakthroughs in cancer research finding better ways to detect and treat the disease. Scientists are developing more targeted therapies that keep the whole patient healthier while zeroing in on the disease and improving the quality of life after cancer for these millions of survivors. Research into long-term effects of childhood cancers, immunotherapies and other treatments will lead to improved outcomes for the more than 23 million additional cancer survivors expected to live in the U.S. in 2032.

Artificial intelligence is being used to fight cancer and end disparities in cancer outcomes. A lack of diversity in medical research hinders progress and harms patients. Clinical trials are critical in the fight against cancer. However, clinical trials are not accessible to everyone. Patients who are racial and ethnic minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status are not included in clinical trials as often as white and wealthier patients are. In their quest to make cancer care more inclusive, one of the V Foundation’s funded research team is combining artificial intelligence with an individualized touch. Marjory Charlot, M.D., is working to reduce disparities in cancer clinical trials by combining approaches from completely different toolboxes: automated big data analytics and personal patient engagement. Charlot and her colleagues are studying whether artificial intelligence software can help researchers and healthcare providers proactively search for minority patients who might be eligible to enroll in a clinical trial. The sophisticated algorithm is designed to pore through the mountains of data in electronic medical records at the UNC Health Cancer Hospital in search of patients who self-identify as African American and meet eligibility criteria for open clinical trials. Using AI could be a real game-changer.

Minimal federal cancer research spending is focused on pediatric cancer. While there has been substantial progress in treatments for pediatric cancer, it is still the leading disease-related cause of death for children in the U.S. over one-year-old. Innovative research, like that funded by Dick Vitale Fund for Pediatric Cancer, is making further strides to make sure no parent has to face losing a child to cancer. At the V Foundation, we focus funds on research in the field of pediatrics to not only improve survival rates, but also to ensure children thrive throughout their life after a cancer fight. Just one example is Ani Despande’s, a V Foundation funded scientist, is focused on gentler treatments with fewer side effects for pediatric leukemia patients.

Progress happens a little at a time. When Jim Valvano stood on the ESPYs stage and announced the founding of the V Foundation, he said something prescient — that funding research may not save his life but could save his children’s lives. Years later, his daughter Jaime faced her own cancer fight. Jamie has been cancer free for over 15 years. Stories like this play out all over the country every day. While there may not be just one “cure” for cancer out there, the continued work of researchers all over the world means more survivors and more stories like the Valvano family.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I encourage your readers to follow the V Foundation on social media (@TheVFoundation) and to check out v.org, where you will find more about the research we fund, the progress we are making against cancer and the many ways they can get involved.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.



Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Journalist, Best-selling Author, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor