Top Doctors 2021: Conquering Cancer

Dr. Ajay Gopal has a reputation for a sympathetic bedside manner

By Edited and Condensed by Rob Smith


May 17, 2021

This story is featured in the May/June issue of Seattle magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.

Name: Ajay Gopal, M.D., Fellow of the American College of Physicians

Practice and Hospital Affiliation: Medical director of clinical research, hematology, malignancies/hematology, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

Why did you pick your specialty? Much of how we determine what we want to do is based on our mentors. I was fortunate to have two great mentors. The first was my cousin, Dr. Subhash Gulati, a hematologist, who encouraged me to go into oncology and seek out further experience in hematologic malignancies. After coming to Seattle for my training, Dr. Oliver Press inspired and mentored me in my subspecialty training with a specific focus in lymphoma and immunotherapy.  

As I learned more about blood cancers, I was drawn to them because they’re essentially a cancer of the immune system. Learning to address malignancies derived from a part of the body that’s intended to fight cancer and infection is particularly challenging yet rewarding as the rapidly advancing science can be translated into better outcomes for patients suffering with these diagnoses.

Oncology as a whole also allows me to develop a close doctor-patient relationship during often one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. 

What do you wish people knew about your specialty? A major misconception is that highly effective and potentially curative treatments come with lots of side effects. That’s simply not true in many cases. Treatments for blood cancers — including lymphoma, my subspecialty — have improved, as has the ability to prevent or treat any side effects. Blood cancers can be very aggressive so it’s important to seek out experts in this area early on to make sure the right approach is taken. This may include highly specialized care, including the most cutting-edge approaches that come from being part of clinical trials, which are often most broadly available at National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers.

How will the pandemic change your practice? The pandemic has taught us we can still provide excellent care even when we’re not seeing people in person as frequently. Much of that will continue, assuming allowances for out-of-state virtual care remain in place. Likewise, we may focus more on treatments that don’t require as many visits. For example, infusions may be less frequent or we may favor oral therapies over intravenous therapies, assuming they are equivalent or better. Over the last year, we have learned how to connect, support  and care for our patients in innovative ways. I expect that to continue even after the pandemic subsides.

This feature is a part of our 21st annual list of the region’s best physicians. View the list here. 

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