Healing Home

After losing his Mom to cancer, a Georgia native returns home to treat it

Community Roots: For Winship Cancer Institute Oncologist Bradley Carthon, creating a connection with his patients starts with a simple question: "Where are you from?"
Jack Kearse

Bradley Carthon grew up in Fort Valley, Georgia, a little community located south of Macon. His mother taught at a small college; his father worked for the railroad. 

When Carthon was nineteen, his mother was diagnosed with gastric cancer. A surgeon flatly announced that they’d found a large tumor with lymph node involvement and that his mother likely had six months to live. “I realized the process and conversation could have been done better. I felt I could help others in times like that,” Carthon says.

Carthon would be the first in his family to pursue medicine. Growing up, he’d already begun to notice disparities in health care, especially for minorities.

Although he was accepted to Harvard as a premed undergraduate, Carthon chose the smaller, supportive environment at Hampton University, one of the nation’s oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities. A scholarship from Norfolk Southern Railway, where his dad worked, helped pave the way.

His academic interests and research focus pivoted toward cancer. “I had an interest in helping people who may not have all the resources that are available,” he says. “In my own community, I saw people pass away from cancer or have to make choices between paying for the basics of living and cancer treatment.”

After Carthon was accepted to Harvard’s MD/PhD program, his education, research, residency, and fellowships would keep him in Boston—then Houston— for more than a dozen years. 

But Georgia was home, and Carthon wanted to serve the people and communities he knew. He joined the genitourinary oncology team at Winship, treating patients with prostate, bladder, testicular, and renal cancers.

In his practice, Carthon enjoys the challenge of translating complex cancer terminology into plain English. “I put some thought into how I relay the message,” he explains. “In Boston, people just wouldn’t get certain analogies. In the South, I can say, ‘This thing is aggressive. It’s growing like kudzu, we need to do something,’ and that message is understood. We find many creative ways to get the point across.”

Knowing that prostate cancer has a higher-than-average rate of occurrence within the African American community, Carthon often speaks about prevention, treatment, and lifestyle in local churches and church conventions. He’s helped mentor high school students and attended career days at elementary schools. 

“For me,” he says, “cancer poses a challenge that simply isn’t static—there is always something higher to shoot for.”

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