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Silvia Chiara Formenti, M.D.

Radiation Oncology

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Personal Statement

I have been fortunate to successfully converge my radiobiology and clinical research interests in the care of many cancer patients. Specifically, in the past decade our group has demonstrated that local radiotherapy can contribute to immune rejection of cancer: in the presence of immune checkpoint blockade (anti-CTLA-4, anti-PDL-1) the irradiated tumor becomes an immunogenic hub, similar to a vaccine. Consistently some patients with metastatic tumors can then reject metastasis that were not irradiated, a mechanism called "abscopal effect". The contribution of localized radiotherapy significantly enhances the success of modern immunotherapy, offering an additional application to radiation, a standard and accessible anti-cancer therapy. With immunotherapy acquiring an important role in the management of most cancer patients, it is very exciting to be able converge radiotherapy as a powerful adjuvant to this approach. Another distinct area of our investigation regards perfecting ways to best irradiate the breast tissue in breast cancer while completely sparing the heart and lungs, eliminating the risk of late cardiovascular and lung toxicity after radiation.

Biographical Info

Dr. Silvia Formenti is Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Weill Cornell, Associate Director of the Meyer Cancer Center and Radiation Oncologist in Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. A prolific researcher, she has published over 190 papers recognized by high impact journals like JAMA, Lancet Oncology, Journal of Clinical Oncology, etc. 

During the past twelve years Dr. Formenti has introduced a paradigm shift in radiation biology, by elucidating the role of ionizing radiation on the immune system, and demonstrating efficacy of combining radiotherapy with immunotherapy in solid tumors. She has translated preclinical work to clinical trials in metastatic breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma. Dr. Formenti has introduced a break-through strategy of recovering an immunological equilibrium in the setting of metastatic disease, by converting a metastasis into an in situ, individualized vaccine: in the presence of immune checkpoint blockade (anti-CTLA-4, anti-PDL-1) the irradiated tumor becomes an immunogenic hub, similar to a vaccine. Once successfully immunized against the irradiated site, the host can develop an anti-tumor immune response capable to reject the other metastases. In some patients with metastatic disease refractory to standard treatment the combination of local radiation and immune check point blockade has already resulted in durable complete remissions, sustained for years after treatment (without any other additional interventions). Her work has opened a new field of application for radiotherapy, whereby localized radiation can be used as an adjuvant to immunotherapy of solid tumors and lymphomas. Dr. Formenti has been funded by grants from NIH, Department Of Defense, American Cancer Society and Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She is currently leading four investigator-initiated clinical trials of immunotherapy and radiotherapy.

Another area of her research consists of drastically reducing the risk late cardiovascular toxicity of breast cancer radiotherapy with a prone technique of radiation that excludes heart and lung from the radiation fields. Recognized by high impact journals like JAMA and NEJM, her research has resulted in a U.S. patent and in a CME course to train in this technique, offered since 2007, with wide international outreach and training.

Board Certifications
American Board of Internal Medicine
American Board of Radiology (Diagnostic Radiology)
American Board of Radiology (Radiation Oncology)
Clinical Expertise
Breast Cancer
Metastatic Cancer
Patient on Combined Chemotherapy and Radiation
  • M.D.
    University of Milan Faculty of Medicine and Surgery (Italy)
  • Chair of Radiation Oncology
    Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University
  • Radiation Oncologist-in-Chief
    NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
  • Sandra and Edward Meyer Professor of Cancer Research
    Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University
  • Professor of Radiation Oncology
    Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University
  • Professor of Medicine
    Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University

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Professional Services: 
VARIAN Medical Systems
Other Interest: 
AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP
Boehringer Mannheim GMBH
Cancer Research UK
Genentech, Inc.