October 4, 2019
Since antiquity, a doctor is considered as next to God and the famous Sanskrit proverb "Vaidyo narayano harihi" (the doctor is Lord Narayana and Lord Hari) is globally the most appropriate sentence that attributes due respect to the doctors. A doctor plays a major role in society and more so in the field of treatment for cancer that is ingrained with superstitions, fear, apprehensions and uncertainties in the society. Dr Suresh Rao, a leading cancer specialist and director of Mangalore Institute of Oncology, the only super speciality cancer hospital of Mangaluru completed care for 25,000 people afflicted with cancer. This is a very rare feat in the field of Oncology.
Dr Suresh Rao
Dr Rao completed both his undergraduate (MBBS) and post graduation (MD in Radiation Oncology at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal) in 1987 and 1991 respectively. He later worked at Shirdi Sai Baba Cancer Hospital, Manipal as Assistant Professor from 1991 to 1999. Later he worked as an oncologist at Salmaniya Medical Complex, Bahrain from 1999 to 2006. As oncology is a multidisciplinary field, with radiation, medical and surgical specialties complementary to each other and integral towards positive outcome, Dr Rao made an attempt to enhance his knowledge and skill in medical and surgical oncology by working closely with experts in these disciplines for over 4 years. These experiences helped him to have a broader view and understanding on the complexities and advantages of each of the modalities and their combination in effective control and cure of different cancers.
On his return back to India, Dr Rao Joined Father Muller Medical College Hospital and started the Oncology Centre in 2007 and worked as professor and head of the department till 2011. He was the first one to have started the use of Linear accelerator (X ray) for cancer in this region. Till then, the hospitals treating cancer were using the age old gammatron (gamma machines) that had its own set of disadvantages, the principal one being severe side effects. At Father Mullers, Dr Rao treated various cancers using the 2DCRT, 3DCRT and IMRT. His professional skills were vital in providing support to patients, fellow physicians and the students he mentored. Many of the patients he treated in the last decade still visit him for their follow up care.
In the year 2011 Dr Rao along with like-minded oncologists and philanthropists started Mangalore Institute of Oncology (MIO) with state of the art diagnostics, sophisticated equipment, trained technicians and nursing personnel. The objective of this was to serve people with the most modern treatment for cancer. MIO is today the only superspeciality cancer hospital in Goa, coastal Karnataka and Northern Kerala and the treatment provided is equivalent to that available only in the best hospitals of the world at very nominal costs. In a short span of time MIO has become an eminent centre for care of cancer and has treated more than 10,000 people with a significant number from the economically weaker sections of the society.
At MIO, Dr Rao revolutionized treatment for cancer by incorporating the modern techniques. Depending on the health condition and gravity of the disease, a conscious attempt is being made to incorporate the most suitable surgical, medical and radiation techniques to achieve complete cure and good quality of life. The use of multimodality treatment is undertaken after discussion in the tumor board with senior colleagues. Dr Rao is one of the very few doctors in India to have incorporated the use of sterotactic body radiation for lung cancer.
One of Dr Rao’s important contributions to the fraternity is the development of a chemoradiation regime combining two anticancer drugs (Oxaliplatin and Capecitabine) with differential dose of radiation for rectal cancers. Conventionally in most cases, surgery is the choice of treatment for rectal cancer. However, when the cancer is located close to the anus, it has to be surgically removed along with the tumor. The patient will then have to depend on a permanent colostomy bag to collect stools. The chemoradiation protocol developed by Dr Rao has led to complete regression of cancer and is of great advantage because surgery is not required for most of these patients. These patients are also able to pass stools normally and do not have to depend on a colostomy bag.
Research is an important component in medical sciences and more so in cancer where unlike in other ailments multifactorial aspects play a role in the initiation and development of cancer which vary depending on the study place diet and life style of the individual/ population. Dr Rao has emphasized an integrative approach with other alternative system of medicine like Ayurveda, diet and lifestyle changes in mitigating the treatment side effects and faster recuperation. In addition to this emphasis is also on health economics where efforts are towards reducing the cost without compromising the treatment goals and objectives. MIO is the only hospital to be working on ethical issues in cancer under the aegis of UNESCO bioethics.
In addition to establishing MIO as a preeminent centre for cancer care, Dr Rao has been instrumental in creating awareness on cancer. The inspiration for this endeavor has been some earlier observations where many in the healthcare fraternity are/were still unaware that most cancers are not as dangerous and life threatening like a few and that most cancers can be completely cured if diagnosed early.
The other important aspect that Dr Rao has focused on is at reducing the number of patients abstaining from regular follow up care after successful completion of treatment. For this he has made a conscious attempt at developing outreach centers in the adjoining rural areas to examine and care for the survivors living in that area. Additionally, along with the CEAC cell attempts are made towards educating the general public on cancer.