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When helping patients tackle the challenges of endocrine cancer, Sarika Rao, DO, believes that trust is often the most important element of any treatment strategy.
“These are lifelong, complex diseases that typically require many visits, so it’s important that we bridge a connection early,” explains Dr. Rao, an attending physician in Endocrinology at MedStar Washington Hospital Center and assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She adds that her love of travel is frequently the key to establishing and building those all-important relationships. “I’ve been fortunate to visit many parts of the world with my family, and they’re often places where my patients are from or have visited as well.”
Why Endocrine Cancer?
The Jacksonville, Fla., native’s interest in the highly specialized field of Oncologic Endocrinology began with her childhood fascination with how the body’s many systems interact. After medical school at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, she completed a residency in internal medicine at the University of Massachusetts, and stayed for a fellowship with the school’s Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes.
Dr. Rao went on to earn the sole annual Oncologic Endocrinology fellowship at the University of Texas’ prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Center. There, she focused on the treatment of conditions such as advanced thyroid and adrenal cancers, as well as endocrinopathies that arise from other cancers or chemotherapy.
Dr. Rao's Work in D.C.
Attracted to the Washington area by the opportunity to work with a large, diverse population, Dr. Rao is also part of the Institutional Review Board for Oncology, as well as the immunotherapy working interest group at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
“Immunotherapy has proven successful in several types of cancers, but it’s a relatively new approach for endocrine tumors,” she says. “We’re also learning more about genetic influences in different types of endocrine cancers, why certain tumors become more aggressive and what drugs can target specific malignancies.”
Language of Care: Establishing Meaningful Patient Connections
Grasping such highly technical information may be a formidable task for patients and families, especially as they cope with the emotional challenges of a cancer diagnosis. That’s where the sharing of travel tales and other trust-building skills come in.
“Knowledge really is power,” Dr. Rao says. “If I can help them understand their disease and what to expect, my patients definitely feel more at ease moving forward.”
And what new destinations would Dr. Rao like to share with her patients? “I’d like to visit South Africa and Botswana, and go on a safari,” she says. “Antarctica also sounds so exotic, though I’d probably have to prepare myself for the rocky sea voyage!”