Renowned surgeon and breast cancer oncology expert Laura J. Esserman is known for singing her fearful patients to sleep as they drift off under general anesthesia.

But it was her description of how Salesforce software is helping revolutionize breast cancer research that had them dancing in the aisles at Dreamforce yesterday.

Speaking to an overflow crowd via the big screens more typically used by rock stars, Esserman, director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at UCSF, took to the stage with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff to discuss the launch of the WISDOM study.

It’s a rigorous five-year investigation protocol that will use Salesforce to help analyze whether a personalized approach to breast cancer screening could be safer and more effective than annual mammograms.

Targeted Treatments

The massive $14.1 million study, to be funded by a grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), ( will follow 100,000 women between the ages of 40 and 80. Participants will be drawn from another Esserman initiative, the Athena Breast Health Network,( which coordinates breast cancer research between the five medical centers of the University of California system.

In her speech, Esserman pointed out that "breast cancer isn’t one disease; it’s many diseases. We have to know how our treatments work for each type of breast cancer." 

She said two women can be the same age, with the same size tumor, but be suffering from two completely different types of breast cancer that require different treatment.  

Data-Driven Medicine

Using Salesforce will allow for the highly personalized data collection necessary to create, track and evaluate an individualized treatment plan for each woman over the course of the study.

Esserman envisions that using such a data-driven approach ― which she refers to as Precision Medicine―can then lead to the development of efficiently targeted strategies to combat individual cancers based on family history and genetics.

Learning from Fantasy Football

Esserman reminded her audience that data is just as important to the field of medicine as it is to tech. To laughter and a few gasps, she gently pointed out that fantasy sports decisions are often made these days based on more data collection and insight than medical decisions.

Yet Esserman remained nothing if not optimistic. Turning to Benioff at the close of her speech, she declared, "I am confident that with your backing, we can change the world."