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You know, I really count my successes as ones where I can help that patient live a long, healthy life and keep coming to see me every three to six months.
My name is Erin Ward. I'm a surgical oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I specialize in treating patients with gastrointestinal cancers, specifically, gastric cancer, cancers like appendix tumors that are treated with cytoreduction and HIPEC, as well as patients with neuroendocrine tumors.
What is HIPEC?
HIPEC is a essentially a treatment that we combine with surgery. And it's heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. So essentially, patients with certain types of cancer, one of them that's most common is appendix tumors or colorectal cancer, that have spread to the lining of the abdominal wall, or the lining of other organs. Sometimes these patients are good candidates to have essentially cytoreduction or removal of the majority, or ideally all, of the disease. And then we use the heated intraperitoneal chemo, meaning we infuse the abdominal cavity during the same surgery with heated chemo to treat the disease that I assume is there, that's microscopic that I can't actually remove because I can't see it. Essentially a comprehensive way to address tumors that have spread outside of the primary tumor to the lining of the abdominal wall.
What is the biggest misconception about HIPEC?
So, I think there's a lot of fear around cytoreduction and HIPEC. But the fact is, is people tend to do very well. I think the other thing that's sometimes a misconception is the idea that everyone's a good candidate for this surgery. There are a lot of things that help guide our decisions about who is a good candidate, and also some of what goes into that is what disease patients have.
Can you talk us through your recent research?
There's a couple of different themes to my research. One of the things I'm most interested in, is understanding how optimizing people's psychosocial health, or their mood, or their social support at home, can have an impact on how well they recover from surgery. So, some of the research I'm starting right now is, and working on with the Wellness Center, is how can we introduce new ways to help people optimize their both psychologic health, as well as their social health, prior to surgery, and then in the immediate post-op period.
What would your patients be surprised to learn about you?
Patients would probably be very surprised to learn that I was born in Africa. My father was in wheat breeding and was helping farmers locally establish new breeds of wheat that would help more consistently provide food for their local population. And he was over there working internationally, and that's how I ended up there.
What made you want to be a surgical oncologist?
I think one of the main things that drew me to surgery was just the opportunity to do something concrete for patients. It's really fulfilling to be able to help somebody go through their symptoms and come up with something that can potentially be fixed. And then the part that really drew me to surgery for cancer patients is the goal is to maintain a long-term relationship. My hope is not to just do one surgery and then never meet that patient again. But, you know, I really count my successes as ones where I can help that patient live a long, healthy life and keep coming to see me every three to six months.