Roswell Park hematology/oncology physician enjoys practicing in a community setting; noted for developing positive rapport with patients
By Chris Motola
Q: You primarily specialize in oncology, but you’re board-certified in other specialties, correct?
A: Yes, I’m a medical oncologist and hematologist. That’s what I practice right now. I’m also board-certified in internal medicine and hospice and palliative care. So my primary practice is oncology, but I try to incorporate the hospice and palliative care elements as well.
Q: What kinds of cancer are you mainly dealing with?
A: I treat patients in a community setting in Niagara Falls and Williamsville. I treat different cancers: breast, lung, prostate, blood cancers. So I see a lot of different ones.
Q: How do you deliver cancer care in that kind of setting, and what are the advantages to doing so?
A: We provide chemotherapy, manage patients’ symptoms and provide support locally so they don’t have to go to the main campus center. They can get the care they need in the community.
Q: Cancer-related fatalities have been falling. What do you think is responsible for that?
A: The American Cancer Society looked at data from between 1991 through 2015 and there was a significant drop in cancer-related deaths of around 27 percent. It translates to about 2.6 million deaths. So that’s a lot. I can tell, from looking at 1991 through now, there have been a lot of changes in cancer care. The field has sort of exploded, research, clinical trials, pharma companies getting involved. We’ve had new treatments, new therapies. So we have a lot of different therapies for different types of cancers and we have what are called “targeted agents,” drugs that target the cancer cells without affecting a lot of the other cells. We have oral agents now that can be taken as a pill. And you may only need to be seen once a month, once in three months to get monitored, so it’s a lot more convenient. And there’s a lot of ongoing research being done.
Q: Are you involved in any research?
A: I’m in a community setting, but the good thing about working with Roswell Park is I have access to clinical trials. If a patient qualifies for a clinical trial, they have to go to the main building at this point. In the future, we are looking at trials that can be done in a local community setting. We don’t have that right now, but it’s coming.
Q: Patients seem to respond very well to you. How do you go about building a rapport with someone dealing with as serious a disease as cancer?
A: Like I mentioned, I treat different types of cancers, so there are different types of treatments. I think the key elements for any physician, especially any oncologist, is communicating with the patient and involving the family and patient in every step of the way. There’s something we try to do in cancer treatment right now where we want to inform the patient, not tell them what to do but to involve them in their own care. We also try to involve the patient’s family, because it’s not one visit and you’re done. It’s going to be a process. It can be a short time, or it can be up until the end of life. So in the beginning and every step of the way, communication is key. I think they appreciate that a lot. That’s basically it.
Q: Aside from the more complex medical questions, do you think patients generally have a good idea of what they need?
A: I think every patient is very unique. There’s a lot of medical jargon, and it’s not that they’re going to understand all of it, but the point is not to confuse them, and to communicate in language they understand. So when I talk to patients, I try to get a sense of how much they want to know. People read a lot of information now. They’ll go online to sites like the American Cancer Society, so they’ll often have a lot of questions for us before they even come in. So everybody’s different. You need to find out what they want to know. The goal isn’t to give them more information than they can remember or to just tell them what to do.
Q: Are there any new treatments coming down the pipeline that you find interesting?
A: Immunotherapy has been studied for multiple cancers and we use it with a lot of cancers, and we’re starting to use it on additional cancers, and more advanced cancers. So there are a lot of studies looking into that and how to combine immunotherapy with other therapies like chemo and targeted therapies.
Q: How does immunotherapy differ from chemotherapy?
A: Chemotherapy basically tries to affect the grow of cells. Immunotherapy, what they’re trying to look at is how to use the immune system to target cancer cells. There are markers and proteins that can be targeted to affect cell growth.
Name: Bhuvana Ramkumar, MD
Position: Medical director, Roswell Park Hematology Oncology of Niagara; staff physician, Roswell Park Hematology Oncology Northtowns
Previous job: Worked four years at CCS Oncology
Hometown: Chennai, India
Education: The Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University in Chennai, India; internal medicine internship from The University of Oklahoma-College of Medicine in Tulsa, Okla., and an internal medicine residency at Rochester General Hospital in Rochester, where she received a research scholarship and Best Emergency Room Resident award. She completed a fellowship in hematology and oncology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, where she was elected chief fellow in the hematology and oncology program. She was employed as a dedicated oncology hospitalist at Roswell Park, where she was presented the Best Multidisciplinary Team award
Affiliations: Roswell Park Cancer Center ; Mount St. Mary’s; Niagara Falls Hospital
Organizations: American Society of Hematology; American Society of Clinical Oncology
Family: Husband Swaroop Singh, and two daughters, Anika and Riya.
Hobbies: Playing the piano, cooking, promoting Indian culture with community org. CHAI