2016 Top Doctor: Anushka Patel, M.D.

Written by Editorial Staff Category: Profiles Issue: April 2016
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Radiation oncology
Med School/Year Graduated: Saint Louis University School of Medicine, 2004

Years in Practice: 6

photography by Steve Craft; Anushka Patel, M.D.What inspired you to specialize in radiation oncology?
The unfortunate loss of my uncle to lymphoma triggered my passion for oncology. During medical school, I was drawn to radiologic imaging. I immediately knew radiation oncology’s blend of imaging and cancer treatment was a perfect match for me.

What is the most challenging area to treat with radiation?
The most challenging, yet gratifying, site to treat is the head and neck region. Not only is the anatomy complex, there is involvement of multiple modes of therapy. Additionally, management of psychosocial factors is extremely important for long-term success and quality of life.

What else is typically part of the treatment plan for a patient receiving radiation therapy for cancer? Do you collaborate with other specialists?
At the time of diagnosis, patients will also see a medical and surgical oncologist. A multidisciplinary approach is vital to create the highest quality and customized plan for the patient. It’s a scary experience, and patients feel safer knowing there’s open communication amongst the team.

How does Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) differ from other treatments?
Conventional therapy delivers small doses of radiation over several weeks. However, SBRT delivers precisely targeted high doses with only one to five sessions. For specific sites, this improves outcomes and decreases side effects.

Your job is obviously very serious, since you’re dealing with cancer patients every day, but do you have any memories of levity or humor that made an exchange better for you and a patient?
Meeting a doctor for the first time can be intimidating. But for once in my life, I’ve found my short stature a beneficial icebreaker when entering the room. Clarifying that I am not a “Doogie Howser” seems to lighten the mood while easing patients into discussing heavier topics.

What do you foresee as the most promising/exciting advancement in oncology over the next decade?
I’m excited to see more targeted treatments on the horizon. This means more precise tumor control, less toxic side effects, and ultimately improved quality of life. Immunotherapy, harnessing the power of the patient’s own immune system, is up-and-coming and may become the fourth pillar of cancer treatment.

What do you like to do in your free time?
I love traveling, especially internationally. We recently toured Japan and Cambodia; both were awe-inspiring and unforgettable, yet extremely different. At home, I’ll enjoy a movie or meditative exercise. This helps keep me fresh and focused.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be...”
A life coach.  I’m not a “guru,” but I’m blessed to work with cancer patients. I’ve learned the paramount importance of managing mental/emotional stress, as well as the cancer itself.  If not doctoring, I’d probably guide others toward balanced lives.