Dr Rajesh Iyer is a practicing senior radiation oncologist in the USA. He specializes in stereotactic radiosurgery, and the treatment of head and neck cancers, prostate cancer and breast cancer.
In this interview, Dr Iyer reveals the basis of his interest in radiation oncology, and talks about facets of cancer care that keep him optimistic about a bright future for cancer patients.
Dr Rajesh Iyer studied at Brown University, finished medical school at Temple University, and underwent his residency in radiation oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, USA.
In addition to his contributions as a doctor, Dr Iyer has also served as the author of multiple peer-reviewed journals on the subjects of prostate cancer and breast cancer. He has also edited chapters on esophageal and uterine cancers for medical textbooks.
He is an expert in the treatment of all tumor sites using radiation therapy, with a keen interest in newer and innovative technologies such as stereotactic radiosurgery, cyberknife surgeries, IMRT, IGRT, and brachytherapy.
Interview with Dr Rajesh Iyer
Please tell us something we don't already know about you.
As a child born to first-generation Indian immigrants to the USA, I grew up in the USA and am proud to possess a background from two amazing countries. I enjoy outdoor activities such as tennis and skiing, and above everything else, I enjoy spending time with my family.
What drove you to choose radiation oncology as your specialization?
I have always had a keen interest in technology, which ultimately led to my undergraduate specialization in electrical engineering. Post this, when I entered medical school, I found radiation oncology to be a field that allowed me to seamlessly combine my interests in both medicine and technology - since radiation therapy is a lot more reliant on technology and treatment infrastucture as compared to other oncology disciplines.
What is your source of daily motivation?
Facing cancer is one of the most serious challenges that any patient can face. I look at myself not only as my patient’s physician, but as a true partner who works with them to overcome this terrible disease.
In fact, cancer has touched members of my immediate family too, and I feel fortunate that I was able to help them fight it off.
What do you think is missing in the cancer care landscape, in India, and in the rest of the world?
For many years, access to the latest cutting-edge care was a limiting factor, and this has shown continuous signs of improvement in India and the rest of the world. More recently, there has been an appreciation of the need to take care of the patient as a whole - including their psychological, emotional, and social needs in addition to their physical needs. Still, a lot more work needs to be done in this aspect.
There are limited resources available for the evaluation and treatment of these tertiary needs, despite the fact that these can have a significant impact on the patient’s ability to recover from their disease.
In your opinion, what are some preventive measures that one can take to avoid developing cancer?
Quitting or reducing smoking will help in reducing the risk of lung cancer, head and neck cancers, and esophageal cancer. In addition to this, an increase in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, while cutting down on the intake of processed and fatty foods can help reduce the risk of gastric cancers and colorectal cancer.
Regular screening tests such as mammography and PSA testing in age-appropriate groups and colonoscopy/fecal occult blood test-based screening systems have been shown to identify cancer earlier, at a stage when the applied treatment can be more effective. Today, there are also many immunizations available to fight off the growing incidence of HPV-mediated cancers.
What is that one thing that you wish your patients knew before they started their treatment?
A positive mental attitude can make all the difference in how successfully and easily a patient can get through what can sometimes be physically difficult cancer treatments.
What makes you optimistic about the future of cancer care?
There have been many exciting new treatment approaches for cancer care in the last 10 to 20 years, starting with minimally invasive robotic assisted surgical techniques, the precise targeting options available for radiation-based treatments such as IMRT/radiosurgery, and extending to newer classes of systemic therapies, such as immunotherapy treatments and targeted therapy treatments.
As a direct result of these innovations, more patients are getting free from their cancer after treatment, and more patients continue to survive longer with their disease. I see this trend continuing (positively) for the next 10 to 20 years.
HPV - Refers to the Human Papillomavirus, responsible for cervical cancer, throat cancer, oral cancer, and some other types of sexually transmitted cancers. ↩︎