His grandmother’s death from breast cancer was a big motivator in his choosing oncology as a medical focus, says Dr. Ram Kancherla. “I was very close to my grandmother, and she died back home in India when I was in medical school,” he says.
Dr. Kancherla graduated from Rangaraya Medical College in India in 1982, then did his internship and residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, followed by a fellowship at New York Medical College in Westchester. Afterward, he served as an attending physician from 1995 to 2001 and worked with stem cell transplantation in both clinical and research settings at Westchester Medical Center. Dr. Kancherla was also chief of oncology at St. Agnes Hospital in White Plains; he and his family relocated to Poughkeepsie in 2001.
He’s now the managing partner at Hudson Valley Hematology Oncology Associates in Poughkeepsie. “All of our doctors are oncologists and hematologists,” he says. With 16 physicians and 10 offices located in seven Valley counties, “We’re the largest oncology practice in the Valley.”
As a physician at Westchester Medical Center, Dr. Kancherla’s main focus was bone marrow and stem cell transplantation — an infusion of healthy stem cells to replace dysfunctional ones, which is sometimes required when bone marrow does not produce enough healthy cells on its own. He now also treats conditions such as lymphoma (various types of blood cancer), multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow), and breast cancer.
“We deal with many types of cancer and blood disease,” the doctors explains, “including solid tumors such as lung, colon, prostate, head, neck, and breast cancer. On top of that are blood-related cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. Also, some blood conditions can be noncancerous, such as anemia, low platelet count, low white blood count and blood coagulation problems.
“Some people may think that working with cancer is depressing, but it’s the opposite for me,” Dr. Kancherla says. “The bright side is that I can help people. That makes me extremely happy — helping and talking with my patients.”
Dr. Kancherla also has a strong interest in improving patients’ access to medical care, including expensive cancer drugs. “It’s getting harder for patients with out-of-pocket payment responsibilities,” he says. “Our practice works together with hospitals, foundations, and pharmaceutical companies to help provide reduced charges for patients who need it.”
“The oncology field is exploding due to new technology,” says Dr. Kancherla. Thanks to discoveries such as genetic markers and medications like Xalkori (a kinase inhibitor used to treat non-small cell lung cancer), cancer diagnosis and treatment is easier and more specific, he says. “We’re starting to understand how each type of cancer — breast, lung, colon, and so on — is not the same in each patient. And we can now identify the genetic mutation linked to some cancers — and based on that, a specific drug can be used.”
“Many medications and antibodies are now more targeted — not like the old chemotherapy drugs, where the chemicals kill everything,” Dr. Kancherla says. “With most common cancers — multiple myeloma, for instance — we have at least four new drugs that came out in the past few years.” One such drug is Revlimid; according to the National Library of Medicine, it “treats anemia caused by myelodysplastic syndrome, a disease where the bone marrow does not function normally and the body does not make enough normal blood cells.” Dr. Kancherla continues: “The side effects of these new drugs is nothing like previous chemotherapy drug side effects where patients experienced hair loss and vomiting.”
“And breast cancer,” Dr. Kancherla continues, “even with metastatic cases — the average patient’s lifespan used to be very limited.” Not any more, he says. “The majority of our patients with metastatic disease are living about five to 10 years longer. With the number of drugs available, we can use drug after drug and keep trying more options. There are many other promising drugs in clinical trials right now.” In terms of cancer surgery, “It’s becoming more minimally invasive. And with radiation, more precise radiation treatments are being developed that reduce effects on surrounding tissue. Every time we turn around, there’s a new treatment, a new medication, new options. It’s an exciting time in the field.”