The Changemakers: Divya Sood, M.D. | OHSU Foundation

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Advancing specialized treatments for cancer patients

By Josh Friesen
For Ignite Magazine
Photos by Jason Hill

Divya Sood, M.D., sees patients who often have nowhere else to turn.

Sood, an assistant professor of surgery (surgical oncology) in the OHSU School of Medicine, specializes in treating patients with abdominal cancers, focusing particularly on metastatic cancers that have spread from one part of the abdomen to another. Historically, the primary treatment for metastatic cancers was chemotherapy and, until recently, surgery wasn’t considered an option.

“Over the last several years, there’s been a paradigm shift within the field. We are reconsidering how to treat metastatic cancers more aggressively,” Sood said. “My work focuses on understanding who falls into that paradigm, who will benefit from this aggressive approach.”

OHSU is setting the tone in changing how oncologists approach and treat metastatic cancers. One treatment in particular, hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), is offering something metastatic cancer patients have longed for: hope.

“The procedure has actually existed for a long time, but it’s ‘new’ because we are now considering it to be a realistic treatment, and we’re seeing real benefits,” Sood said. “Oftentimes, my patients have seen a dozen providers before they’ve come to me who’ve told them no, who’ve said, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ They remain motivated in the face of rejection, and they’ve continued to maintain hope.”

HIPEC has two major steps. First, the larger and more accessible metastasized tumors are surgically removed from the abdomen. Then, a high dose of heated chemotherapy medications is infused into the abdominal cavity to treat any remaining tumors.

We’re considering it to be a realistic treatment, and we’re seeing real benefits.

Divya Sood
Divya Sood stands in frot of a dark background, looking left

Not every patient of Sood’s is a candidate for HIPEC, however. For those for whom HIPEC isn’t an option, Sood is studying ways for them to cope and continue using other treatment options.

Many patients who do undergo HIPEC can extend their prognosis significantly. Other patients are showing no signs of cancer.

“I had a patient recently come in who had her one-year anniversary from our operation,” Sood said. “She’d been told multiple times she wasn’t a candidate for surgery, that she’d be on lifelong chemotherapy. We were able to operate, and she’s been off chemotherapy and has no evidence of disease. She’s living her normal, healthy life.

“That’s something she had a hard time envisioning before she came to see us at OHSU.”