By Jeff Tucker

A Quest for Excellence

Dr. Ivan Piñón joins effort to build Thyroid and Parathyroid Center of Excellence at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

Ivan Piñón, MD, once thought his future would lead to the lab bench.

But a long career practicing as an endocrinologist in the Albuquerque area has led him to The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center to serve as a crucial part of the effort to build a thyroid and parathyroid center of excellence.

“There’s a significant population of patients with thyroid cancers and disease,” Piñón says. “As the lead endocrinologist I will conduct the critical workup for their condition, and if indicated, I will refer patients to our surgeons for surgical consultations. Patients will follow up with me for aftercare and cancer surveillance.”

ivan-pinon-md.jpgPiñón says he’s excited to join the new center of excellence and credits UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center surgeons Nathan Boyd, MD, and Garth Olson, MD, for championing the idea.

“The goal is to be the referral center for the state of New Mexico and the Southwest, including Arizona and Colorado,” Piñón says.

In addition to his work with thyroid cancers, Piñón says his expertise will help patients with other conditions.

“A lot of patients with other types of cancers are on drugs that can cause endocrine problems,” Piñón says, adding that he will be available to provide his expertise to other physicians.

Piñón, who has more than 20 years of experience as an endocrinologist, says his interest in the endocrine system developed while he was a student at Southern Methodist University.

“My dad was a pharmacist, so that got me interested in medicine and research in an indirect way,” Piñón says.

While at SMU, he developed an interest in science and research, particularly in endocrinology. His budding interests led him to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was planning to study lactation hormones in elephant seals.

The program changed focus to mice and after a while, Piñón says, he began to think more about a career in research.

“After 3 ½ years working on a PhD, I got a little disillusioned with it,” he says. “I didn’t want to work behind a research bench, by myself, the whole time. So I quit my PhD program and received a master’s degree.”

The El Paso, Texas, native moved to Valhalla, N.Y., and completed his medical degree at New York Medical College.

Following graduation, Piñón came to Albuquerque for his residency and stayed. “I was originally from the Southwest, but I didn’t want to go back to Texas,” he says.

Piñón completed his residency at UNM and the Raymond G. Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albuquerque, followed by a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism with UNM’s Division of Endocrinology, also at the VA Medical Center.

Piñón also taught as an assistant professor of internal medicine for the UNM Department of Internal Medicine before joining Presbyterian Hospital as a staff endocrinologist in 2004.

“The main thing about my new position is letting people know I’m here for them,” Piñón says. “I’ve been involved in endocrinology for 20-some years. The mission of the Cancer Center is to take care of those patients, but also to teach the upcoming residents, fellows and medical students. It’s a unique thing to New Mexico.”

The Thyroid and Parathyroid Team at the UNM Cancer Center is a multidisciplinary clinic. It consists of surgeons Boyd, Olson, Andrew Cowan, MD, PhD; and Noah Syme, MD.  In addition to Piñón, it includes endocrinologists Christina Lovato, MD, and Patricia Kapsner, MD; and pathologists Shweta Agarwal, MD, Nadja Falk, MD, Nancy Joste, MD, Corey Broehm, MD, and Samuel Reynolds, MD.

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius.

Its more than 120 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 600 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provide treatment to 65% of New Mexico's cancer patients from all across the state and partner with community health systems statewide to provide cancer care closer to home. They treated approximately 14,000 patients in about 100,000 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital.

A total of nearly 400 patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments that include tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing.

The more than 100 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded $35.7 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects. Since 2015, they have published nearly 1000 manuscripts, and promoting economic development, they filed 136 new patents and launched 10 new biotechnology start-up companies.

Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 500 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery.

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center