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Fighting to Improve Outcomes in Gastrointestinal Cancers by Understanding Risk Factors and Related Chronic Diseases

Read Time: 3 minutes

Sheetal Hardikar, MBBS, PhD, MPH

"My 5 is for my grandmother, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer just before I moved to the United States to pursue further education to become a cancer epidemiologist. My grandmother was born in a remote village in India and, though she wanted to, she could not go to school. Her parents didn’t have the resources. Plus, she was a girl! After she got married to my grandfather, who was a teacher, she taught herself to read. She was a voracious reader and she actually taught me to read when I was in kindergarten. She always encouraged us to ask questions and I feel that has played an important role in my wanting to be a scientist."

Sheetal Hardikar, MBBS, PhD, MPH
Cancer Epidemiologist, Huntsman Cancer Institute
Assistant Professor of Population Health Sciences, University of Utah

When Sheetal Hardikar heard she received the 5 For The Fight Fellowship, she did a little dance.

"I was really excited," Hardikar says. "I think for me a really big part of my excitement was the validation of my research and my work. It gives me a lot of satisfaction and, of course, I was excited to have a whole new set of resources available for me through this fellowship, which will help accelerate my progress in improving outcomes for people with cancer."

Born in India, she did her undergraduate education in medicine but was always interested in research. "At that time there weren’t many resources available for doing research in India, so I decided to move to the United States to get training in population research." She completed her master of public health at The Ohio State University and her PhD at University of Washington. Next, she completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Hardikar then joined Huntsman Cancer Institute, where she focuses on the risk factors and progression of cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.

Hardikar studies multiple aspects of gastrointestinal cancers, particularly cancers of the esophagus and colon—why they occur, what puts people at increased risk for these cancers, and factors that may affect patients’ survival after developing these cancers. Over the last few years, Hardikar has focused her work on understanding the complex relationship between diabetes and cancer, two of the most common chronic conditions affecting a large percentage of the U.S. population. Hardikar would like to understand how diabetes may contribute to the development and progression of cancer and vice versa.

"We know these two diseases affect so many people in this country. Diabetes contributes to the development and outcomes in cancer patients just as the risk of developing diabetes is higher among cancer patients than the general population. Therefore, it is important that we understand the interrelationship between cancer and diabetes to prevent and better treat diabetes outcomes in cancer patients, as well as reduce cancer risk among persons with diabetes," Hardikar says.

Advice for Young Scientists

"Be curious and be shameless!" Never be scared to ask questions that seem impossible to be answered at the outset. Also, never be shy to ask for help. You can always approach a senior scientist or email them to say that you really admire their work. You might gain a valuable mentor from it.

Cancer touches all of us.