After obtaining his basic surgical training in India, this year’s Distinguished Lecturer of the International Society of Surgery went to the U.K. for specialist training. During breast surgery subspecialty training while abroad, he received news that would ultimately set the course for his career and bring him back to his homeland: His mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Much as I had lucrative career opportunities in the British Isles, my family and I relocated to Hyderabad, the capital city of the state of Telangana [India] in 2007 to take care of my mother and serve my motherland,” said Raghu Ram Pillarisetti, OBE, MS, FRCSEng, FRCSEd, FRCSG, FRCSI, FACS, FRCST(Hon), FCSSL(Hon), FCCS(Hon), FASGBI(Hon).
In his lecture, Disrupting Breast Healthcare in India, available on Wednesday, October 27, at 1:00 pm Central Time, Dr. Pillarisetti will share the revolutionary changes in breast health care and breast cancer awareness that he was instrumental in bringing about in his country of origin. He is the founding director and consultant surgeon for KIMS-USHALAKSHMI Centre for Breast Diseases at KIMS Hospitals, Hyderabad; founder, CEO, and director, Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation, Hyderabad; director, international affairs, Great Eastern Medical School, Srikakulam, India; chairman, academic advisory board, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad; and immediate past-president, The Association of Surgeons of India.
“The American College of Surgeons 2021 Clinical Congress theme is Resilience in the Pursuit of Excellence,” he said. “The presentation brings into sharp focus resilience in the face of enormous challenges and the relentless pursuit of excellence over the past 14 years to improve breast health care in India through a number of unique and innovative initiatives.”
Breast cancer has overtaken lung cancer as the most common cancer worldwide, with 2.3 million new cases diagnosed annually. In India alone, a woman is diagnosed with the disease every four minutes. “Due to lack of awareness and absence of a robust organized population-based breast cancer screening program, more than 60 percent present in the advanced stages with poor survival,” Dr. Pillarisetti explained. “For every two women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, one woman dies of it in India.”
Dr. Pillarisetti set out to disrupt this trend and honor his mother, a breast cancer survivor, with the creation of the KIMS-USHALAKSHMI Centre for Breast Diseases, South Asia’s first freestanding, dedicated comprehensive breast health center. This landmark initiative has paved the path for a revolutionary change in the way “breast health center” is understood in India. For almost a decade and a half, the associated not-for-profit Ushalakshmi Breast Cancer Foundation, which also bears his mother’s name, has coordinated a large-scale drive to heighten breast cancer awareness, disrupting the taboo associated with the disease in India’s southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In addition, Dr. Pillarisetti implemented South Asia’s largest population-based breast cancer screening program in these states, which India’s National Health Mission Programme is expanding to a nationwide initiative. Recognizing a need for a dedicated organization for general surgeons, surgical oncologists, and plastic surgeons treating patients with breast disease, Dr. Pillarisetti also was the driving force behind the creation of The Association of Breast Surgeons of India, which has evolved to become the “voice for breast surgery” in the country.
As someone whose “heart beats for early detection of breast cancer,” Dr. Pillarisetti said his inspiration can be summed up by a passage from a speech given by former Indian President Abdul Kalam: “Ask what we can do for India and do what has to be done to make India what America and other Western countries are today.”
“Over the past 14 years, I have served as a ‘living bridge’ between the U.K. and India and strived to replicate the best of British practices in an earnest endeavor to improve the delivery of breast health care in a country where I was born and raised,” Dr. Pillarisetti said. “In the fullness of time, the disruptive, innovative, and unique strategies coupled with a vision to find ‘Indian Solutions’ that effectively deal with the enormous disease burden from breast cancer would hopefully pave the path towards significant survival benefit, in addition to serving as a benchmark for improving the delivery of breast health care in South Asia.”
In recognition of his innovative work, Dr. Pillarisetti was honored by his homeland in 2015 with the prestigious Padma Shri, one of the India’s highest civilian awards, and in 2016 with the Dr. B.C. Roy National Award, the highest recognition that can be achieved by a practicing physician in India. Both were conferred by the country’s president.
Dr. Pillarisetti’s international honors include being appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II this year. He is one of the youngest surgeons of Indian origin in more than 100 years to be honored with the second highest-ranking Order of the British Empire (excluding a Knighthood). Earlier this year, he was conferred honorary fellowship of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain & Ireland (ASGBI), making him the only surgeon of Indian origin in 100 years to be awarded the highest recognition from ASGBI. In addition to being conferred Honorary Fellowships from the Royal College of Surgeons of Thailand (2019), College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka (2020), and Chinese College of Surgeons (2020), Dr. Pillarisetti is also the youngest ever recipient of the International Gold Medal in the 516 years history of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (2013).
The Distinguished Lecture of the International Society of Surgery was established in 1990 and endowed by the U.S. Chapter of the International Society of Surgery to recognize the Society’s worthwhile activities by honoring distinguished international surgeons.
This lecture and other Clinical Congress 2021 sessions are available to registered attendees for on-demand viewing for a full year following Congress on the virtual meeting platform.