Q&A: Seattle Top Doctor Heidi Gray Shares Insights Into the World of Women’s Cancer Care
One of Seattle's top doctors shares insight on being part of the team that led to the approval of a new therapy
By Danielle Hayden April 1, 2019
This article appears in print in the April 2019 issue, as part of the Top Doctors cover story. Click here to subscribe.
What are the most common cancers you see in your practice?
Ovarian cancer, endometrial/uterine cancer and cervical cancer are the most common.
What new treatments have been successful or are on the horizon?
For ovarian cancer, we finally have novel oral therapies called PARP inhibitors that were recently approved for active treatment and maintenance therapy. Some patients can have improved survival with these drugs. My colleagues and I were honored to be principal investigators in the clinical trials, which enrolled patients here at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, that ultimately led to their approval. Immunotherapy is a big area of interest in all our gynecologic cancers, and we have active clinical trials enrolling patients to help answer the question of their therapeutic value.
Why did you decide to become a doctor? Was there an event or moment that sent you down this path?
I thought I was going to be a scientist when I went to college. I did a book report on Marie Curie in elementary school and thought, this is a role model for me. I worked in a lab part-time during college, but I found that I gravitated towards working more with people than with cells.
Why did you choose this specialty?
I chose an OB/GYN residency as it had the blend of surgery, working in women’s health and longitudinal care that appealed to me.…My career choice satisfies my scientist at heart with the never-ending challenge to outsmart cancer and unlock new pathways and treatment for care. In addition, it is powerful to physically remove cancer and invoke immediate treatment.
Do you have areas of special interest?
As director of our clinical trials program, I am passionate about moving the science of oncologic therapy forward, particularly in the field of immunology and immunotherapy. In addition, I enjoy being able to offer cutting-edge surgical techniques for my patients with gynecologic cancers, whether minimally invasive robotics or complex radical ovarian cancer surgery. In more recent years, I have become involved in quality-improvement projects in surgery. Two years ago, I developed and implemented an Enhanced Recovery After Surgery program for our patients undergoing open surgery for gynecologic cancers here at UW. Since implementing that program, we have seen dramatic improvement with reduced stays in hospital and a reduction in narcotics use, with overall high patient satisfaction scores.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
I think the biggest question I get is “Isn’t it sad to work with people with cancer?” Actually, it is quite the opposite. I am always inspired by how resilient my patients are and gain a lot of hope from their strength and graciousness in dealing with serious illness.
Is there a patient behavior that you wish you could change?
I try to advise patients to be cautious consumers when reading the Internet and to pay close attention to the source. Although there are a lot of good websites and information out there, there can equally be misguided advice and misinformation for cancer patients.
What’s the most fun—outside of medicine—that you’ve recently had?
My family loves to travel, and we recently had the opportunity to go to London to watch the Seahawks play. My husband is one of the team doctors for the Seahawks. We were thrilled to be able to take in the sights of London and also watch the Seahawks win in historic Wembley Stadium.
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