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Saketh Guntupalli on leadership vision, higher survival rates for gynecologic cancers

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Written by Cancer Center on July 1, 2019

This July, University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator, Saketh Guntupalli, MD, assumes the role of Division Chief of the CU School of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Division of Gynecologic Oncology, with a mission to increase the excellence of clinical care, train the next generation of physician-scientists, and move the needle on gynecologic cancer research. Guntupalli takes over a program that already boasts 15-20 percent improved survival rates over national averages for some cancers including uterine cancer.

“The quality of our physician-scientists is simply unparalleled in this part of the country. Our surgeons can be more aggressive, and we can use more aggressive types of chemotherapy, in part because we have excellent ancillary services that help patients live longer – an excellent ICU, postoperative nursing, supportive care. Plus, we have the expertise and technology to offer advanced therapies like HIPEC, advanced radiation, proton therapy, and even novel agents in cutting-edge clinical trials,” Guntupalli says.

This idea of multidisciplinary care based on the collaboration of dozens of experts has roots in Guntupalli’s own care philosophy.

“I want to give my patients the most up-to-date, evidence-based care. But that requires a balance between being aggressive to treat their cancer while also looking at them as a person,” Guntupalli says. “Anybody can give chemotherapy, give radiation orders, do surgery, but a good physician also looks at each patient as a person and asks how are the side effects treating them, what are their goals, and is the usual treatment the right path forward for them? We’ve been part of the some of the biggest, practice-changing clinical trials and, on the other hand, have also been part of research showing that we can offer less invasive treatments without compromising outcomes.”

In fact, this treatment approach combined with the experts and infrastructure available on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus leads to improved outcomes despite the fact that the campus tends to see sicker patients than in the community setting.

“We see patients that other providers send to us because they need a higher level of care, and even with that, our survival outcomes are higher than in surrounding settings,” Guntupalli says.

In addition to excellence in care, Guntupalli hopes to build on the program’s excellence in research.

“We have over $3M dollars in funded research, annually. People are doing very high quality translational and bench research, all the way up to phase III clinical trials. We have people sitting on the biggest committees in the country. For example, Dr. Behbakht sits on the NCCN ovarian cancer committee, which sets the standards for how this cancer is treated around the world; Carolyn Lefkowitz is a national leader in palliative care for women’s cancer; and Brad Corr is opening his own clinical trials to investigate new treatments. These are only a few examples. There are many more,” Guntupalli says.

One of the program’s major goals, Guntupalli says, is to continue to recruit doctors and researchers with established, national reputations, as well as to attract early-career scientists and trainees who can grow through collaborations and mentorship into tomorrow’s leaders.

“My goal is to cement CU Cancer Center in patients’ minds the number one place in this whole part of the country for receiving gynecologic cancer care,” Guntupalli says. “By coming here, you simply have a better chance of living a longer, better life.”

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Saketh Guntupalli, MD