Born in a Small Village in India, a Breast Cancer Expert Assumes a Leadership Role in Oncology in Cleveland and Beyond

Jame Abraham, MD, FACP

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Jame Abraham, MD, FACP, was born and reared in Kerala, a tropical state in southwestern India. Situated on the Malabar Coast, Kerala was named as one of the ten paradises of the world by National Geographic Traveler. “Along with its natural beauty, Kerala is a true melting pot. Over centuries, people from many different cultures—Arab and Jewish merchants and Christian missionaries, European traders, and colonizers—traveled through and lived in Kerala. Although my parents were from a small village and had a modest income, I had a fulfilling childhood, surrounded by a loving and supportive family,” he related.



Chairman of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Cleveland Clinic and Professor of Medicine at Lerner College of Medicine


Calicut Medical College, Kerala, India


“Throughout my career, I’ve been helped immeasurably by mentors, who took a chance on me and took time to guide me with advice that served in many ways as the foundation of my career. I cannot stress enough the importance of mentoring, and I will always remember to pay it forward.”

When asked about important people in his early life, Dr. Abraham responded: “My grandfather on my mother’s side had a strong influence on me. He was a school teacher and a devoted follower of Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian independence movement. Another strong influence was my aunt, Sr. (Dr.) Romeo, my mother’s sister. She is a Catholic nun who went to Canada and trained as a doctor and then returned to India, where she served the poorest of the poor in Jharkhand, a northern Indian state. As a result of her influence, I actually thought about becoming a Jesuit priest, but my father and my aunt encouraged me to go into medicine, so I decided to become a doctor. Plus, I knew the only way of social upward mobility for me was through education. I was quite fortunate that in India, our education is completely free, even medical education. It was based on a strong merit system; if you work hard, you can get ahead.”

A Personal Journey to Oncology

In 1984, Dr. Abraham entered the Calicut Medical College in Kerala at the age of 18. “Even though medical school was hard work, I still spent time focusing on literature and other issues related to social justice. Although I spent too much time out of the classroom, in the end, my extracurricular activities broadened my perspectives and later served me well in my career in various academic leadership roles. I would encourage young med students to seek out life experiences; they help you to achieve a better understanding of the totality of human condition,” he suggested.

Asked about his decision to pursue a career in oncology, Dr. Abraham replied: “When I was in my second year of med school, my 42-year-old aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and that was actually the first time cancer came into my mindset. My aunt’s cancer was metastatic at the time of diagnosis, and she came back home to be cared for by our close-knit family. It gave me a perspective of what it means to be on the other side of the bed. It was a grueling process until she finally died, but I was there to help out, and it had a profound effect on me.”

Heading to the United States

After attaining his medical degree from Calicut Medical College, Dr. Abraham decided the United States offered the best opportunity. However, the road was challenging, as there were no facilities in India that offered the required USMLE exams needed for a U.S. residency. That meant a difficult trip across the border to Pakistan, but his determination prevailed, and he achieved the requisite certification. After graduating from Medical College, he spent 2 years in New Delhi, working at AIIMS and Safdarjung hospitals, preparing to come to the United States.

In 1994, he joined the University of Connecticut School of Medicine for medical residency. There, he was mentored by Peter Tutuska, MD, Director of Bone Marrow Transplantation.

“Peter was an amazing guy, another immigrant like me. He came from Germany after the Second World War and helped to start the bone marrow transplant program at Johns Hopkins with Dr. George Santos. After that, he came to Connecticut to lead the bone marrow transplant program. Peter took me under his wing. His mentorship helped me to get a medical oncology fellowship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which I followed with a hematology fellowship from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I met my wife, Shyla, during that period and began our family. I also published a number of papers and a textbook, which certainly bolstered my career opportunities.” Dr. Abraham edited the first edition of the Bethesda Handbook of Clinical Oncology, considered a standard in many hospitals and universities, which is in its 6th edition now.

During his tenure at the NCI, Dr. Abraham was the study chair of several early-phase trials that included novel treatments for breast cancer such as ixabepilone, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2007. “I was very fortunate to work with an amazing mentor, Tito Fojo, MD, PhD. Tito influenced my career more than anyone else. He was an excellent doctor and a scientist but most importantly an amazing mentor,” he said.

Into the Unknown: West Virginia

According to Dr. Abraham, although his career trajectory pointed toward a faculty position at a prestigious academic institution, because of his immigration status, his options were limited to a few selected organizations, one of which was West Virginia University (WVU). “The people could not have been more welcoming,” he shared. “I have so much love and respect for the people of West Virginia.”

Soon after he arrived, Dr. Abraham was asked to lead the breast cancer program. “I was only a new faculty member, but it was an amazing opportunity. So, I rolled up my sleeves and brought people in, and we established the first comprehensive breast cancer program in the state of West Virginia. Following the success of the breast program, I was made Medical Director of the cancer center and later Head of Hematology and Oncology and Professor of Medicine. It was a terrific period in my career. I learned a lot about all dimensions of cancer care and leadership as well as collaborated with terrific associates. I will always be grateful to WVU for the trust put in me at such an early stage of my career,” he said.

Dr. Abraham received several awards for patient care and teaching, including “Attending of the Year” and “Teacher of the Year.” His outstanding work in patient care was recognized by the Excellence in Clinical Medicine award from the dean of the school of medicine in 2010. That year, he received an award from the President of India, Her Excellency Mrs. Pratibha Patil, for his contribution to cancer care.

While at West Virginia University, Dr. Abraham was able to be part of NSABP clinical trials, as a local investigator and then a national principal investigator. “I truly appreciate the mentorship of Dr. Sam Jacobs and Dr. Norman Wolmark of NSABP throughout my career,” he commented.

Opportunity Knocks

Dr. Abraham’s career matured at WVU for 10 rewarding years, and then an e-mail appeared in his inbox out of the blue. “I got recruited to interview with Dr. Brian Bolwell, Chairman of Cleveland Clinic Cancer Institute. We were very happy in West Virginia; our kids were doing great, and my wife asked if I were sure I wanted to investigate a potential move. She supported me either way, so I went to Cleveland Clinic for the interview and met with Dr. Bolwell. We really hit it off, and he seemed to like my approach. There were other candidates, but I was fortunate to be hired as Director of the Breast Program. With the help of my outstanding colleagues, we were able to build the Cleveland Clinic Breast Cancer Program, now one of the best in the country.”

Current Work

In 2019, Dr. Abraham was appointed Chairman of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology after a national search. The Hematology/Oncology Department at Cleveland Clinic has more than 110 staff doctors in Ohio, 24 hematology/oncology fellows, and more than 60 advanced practice providers. It is one of the largest hematology/oncology departments in the country. In early 2023, Dr. ­Abraham’s role was expanded to Enterprise Department Chair of Hematology and Medical Oncology.

Along with his administrative role at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Abraham is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Breast Cancer Committee. He is Vice Chair of the Research Strategy Committee of NRG Oncology and is also a member of the Breast Committee Working Group of NRG Oncology. Dr. Abraham is Deputy Editor of JCO: Oncology Practice and Deputy Editor of The ASCO Post. He is still very active in clinical research with NSABP and NRG Oncology. He has received research funding support from the Department of Defense and the National Cancer Institute.

Asked for a glimpse of his day-to-day work, Dr. Abraham commented: “Along with our U.S. institutions (Ohio and Florida), Cleveland Clinic is a global enterprise, with locations in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), London, and Toronto. As Enterprise Department Chair, I am responsible for the hematology and oncology care across our global enterprise, not just in Ohio. That occupies a considerable part of my work life. And as Chair of the Hematology/Oncology Department and my duties as Professor of Medicine at Lerner College of Medicine, I’m super busy, and each day brings its own challenges. I’m blessed to love what I do. Taking care of patients with cancer is not just a job for me; it is a passion. I am fortunate to work with and lead some of the best cancer doctors, nurses, advanced practice providers, and caregivers in the world. Oncology is a truly inspiring career, and I’m excited about its bright future.”

“As an oncologist working in Cleveland Clinic, I have the perfect job—I am privileged to take care of patients with a complicated breast cancer diagnosis. I can continue to do clinical research to improve cancer care. I am honored to train and mentor doctors, who will be the future leaders in oncology and health care. In addition, I am a part of an amazing enterprise leadership team that delivers cancer care across the system.”

Personal Life

Asked to shed light on his personal life, and how he decompresses from his rigorous work schedule, Dr. Abraham commented: “First off, I’m really lucky to be married to my wife, Shyla, and thankful she’s still tolerating me after almost 29 years. She’s a freelance writer and publishes a regular health-related column in an English magazine (The Week) in India. She also almost single-handedly raised my two boys. My oldest, Abel, is a third-year med student, and his younger brother, Adith, is going to start med school in July. My wife and I are very proud of them. I am fortunate to have an amazing family. As for decompressing, it’s being able to spend time with the family first and foremost. I play golf with my boys, and we are three terrible golfers, but we have a lot of fun and quality time together on the course. Audio books help me to continue my passion for reading, and I write regularly for magazines in India on various cancer-related topics for the public.”

‘A Lucky Man’

Asked for some brief closing thoughts, Dr. Abraham responded: “I’m truly a lucky man. I was privileged to be born in a supportive family in India, where I could get a free education, including free medical education. Otherwise, a person with my humble background would never be able to afford medical school. I am truly grateful for the opportunities to train and work at some of the best hospitals and research institutions in the world; without that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Throughout my career, I’ve been helped immeasurably by mentors, who took a chance on me and took time to guide me with advice that served in many ways as the foundation of my career. I cannot stress enough the importance of mentoring, and I will always remember to pay it forward.”