Heather E. Leeper, M.D., M.S.

Heather E. Leeper, M.D., M.S.
Assistant Research Physician

Dr. Leeper is a neuro-oncologist with a special interest in understanding the ways in which patients, caregivers and their healthcare providers can collaborate together to better manage the symptoms and therapy-related side-effects experienced by brain and spinal cord tumor patients. Her primary research goals are to identify symptom management methods to optimize each individual’s care, as well as effective coping strategies to maintain and possibly improve quality of life for both patients and their caregivers.   

Areas of Expertise

1) primary brain tumors, 2) spinal cord tumors, 3) neuro-oncology, 4) survivorship care, 5) supportive care, 6) palliative medicine

Contact Info

Heather E. Leeper, M.D., M.S.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 82, Room 243
Bethesda, MD 20892
Ph: 240-760-7998
Fax: 301-480-5124

Dr. Leeper has a strong desire to learn how care of patients and families can be optimized to reduce symptom severity, alleviate treatment-related side effects, and provide support as they learn to cope with the impact of the illness and tumor-directed treatment. She has been in collaboration with Dr. Terri Armstrong since 2015 and dedicated a year learning hospice and palliative medicine.  Building from these experiences Dr. Leeper is developing clinical trials at NCI addressing symptom management specific to the brain and spinal cord tumor patient population. Patient-focused research in other advanced cancers has shown that intensive symptom management by nurses and physicians extends survival, though these studies did not include brain and spinal cord tumor patients. Dr. Leeper’s research efforts are focused on addressing this unmet need to conduct cancer-specific supportive care and symptom management research studies within neuro-oncology. Her additional initiatives include developing a survivorship care program at NCI to serve as a model for other centers to build their own neuro-oncology patient specific survivorship care program using local resources.

Dr. Leeper’s overarching goal is to define the most important aspects of supportive care for neuro-oncology patients and their caregivers to then collaboratively develop patient-centered, evidence based best practices and patient care guidelines.  She hopes the incorporation of supportive and survivorship care will enrich the lives of the patients, their caregivers and families as well as their healthcare providers.

Drawing showing patient in middle of three intersecting circles:  Your social roles and experiences, Tumor and biological factors, Your emotional wellness and psychological factors

We are each unique, dynamic individuals with complexities who make us who we are.  We each have a unique personality, have varying states of emotions and psychologic wellness.  We each have social roles defining who we are to different people: a daughter or a son, a spouse, a parent, a neighbor, a co-worker, etc.  We also each have unique genes that determine the biology of our bodies and unfortunately, some get cancer.  This image depicts that we are not our cancer and our cancer is not us, and that the experience of having cancer is affected by many different aspects.  We here at the NOB seek to understand how healthcare can be improve by targeting care for the individual person, beyond targeting treatment to cancer cells.

NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Clinical Research, Health Disparities, Neuroscience, Social and Behavioral Sciences
View Dr. Leeper's PubMed Summary.

Selected Recent Publications

  1. Survivorship and Caregiver Issues in Neuro-Oncology.
    Leeper, HE
    Current Treatment Options. 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Leeper H, Milbury K
    Neuro-Oncology . 20(supplement 7): vii40-vii46, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Leeper HE, Acquaye AA, Bell S, Clarke JL, Forst D, Laack NN, Link MJ, Taylor JW, Armstrong TS.
    Neuro-Oncology Practice. 5(1): 3-9, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Leeper H, Felicella M, Walbert T.
    Current Treatment Options in Oncology. 18(9): 55, 2017. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Socioeconomic status predicts survival in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma..
    Leeper H.E. and Johnson D.R.
    Neuro-Oncology. 16: 2014. [ Journal Article ]

Dr. Leeper received her Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree at Chicago Medical School in addition to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in Applied Psychology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science. Throughout her medical education, Dr. Leeper has been passionate about by being involved in all aspects of her patients’ care. She strived to learn about her patients’ illness experience, recognizing the significant impact this has on their lives as unique individuals with many different roles across their social network.   

During her 2-year neuro-oncology fellowship at Mayo Clinic Dr. Leeper completed a degree in clinical research from Mayo Graduate School, but also became increasingly interested in addressing caring for the patient beyond tumor-directed treatments.  Upon becoming an attending physician, she came to fully recognize the desperate need to improve patient-focused care and survivorship care within neuro-oncology.  To this end, she collaborated with Dr. Armstrong in leading a multidisciplinary interprofessional working group to develop a neuro-oncology patient specific survivorship care plan. This was endorsed by the Society for Neuro-Oncology in an effort to foster greater awareness of neuro-oncology patient survivorship care needs among healthcare providers, recognizing the many challenges and issues patients face during and after diagnosis and treatment. She then completed a second fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at the University of Illinois, developing expertise in symptom management, communication and supportive care methods.   She joined the NCI’s Neuro-Oncology Branch in 2019 aiming to conduct patient-focused research within neuro-oncology and to create equitable supportive and survivorship care for all patients affected by primary brain and spinal cord tumors at the NCI and beyond. 

In addition to her clinical activities, Dr. Leeper also serves as an ad hoc reviewer for several neuro-oncology journals and participates in organizations active in supporting the topics of palliative and supportive care for neuro-oncology patients.

Honors, Awards and Leadership

  • Ad hoc Reviewer, Journal of Neuro-Oncology – 2019 to present                  
  • Mentoring & Networking Working Group co-leader, Society for Neuro-Oncology – 2019 to present
  • Ad hoc Reviewer, Neuro-Oncology Journal – 2017 to present
  • Ad hoc Reviewer, Neuro-Oncology Practice Journal – 2016 to present
  • Chicago Medical School Student Leadership Award - 2006
  • Outstanding Female Student Leadership Award, Rosalind Franklin University - 2006

Select Societies and Initiatives

  • Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) (2011 to present)
  • Member, Society for Neuro-Oncology (SNO) (2010 to present)       
  • Member, American Academy of Neurology (AAN) (2007 to present)