Taking a Holistic Approach
When it comes to treating cancer patients, a cure or remission are often the topics most discussed between patients, physicians and their families. But what should come up more often than not, says East Jefferson General Hospital oncologist and hematologist Dr. Khawaja Saad Jahangir, is ensuring a high quality of life for patients and their families through a holistic care approach and palliative medicine.
This approach to care is especially important for the elderly population, or adults ages 65 and older, who are both more susceptible to cancer and who are becoming an increasingly larger segment of the population. For these reasons, Dr. Jahangir has pursued his conjoined passions of geriatric oncology and palliative medicine.
Dr. Jahangir, one of the newest additions to the EJGH oncology team, returned to New Orleans in December after serving as an oncologist and hematologist at Cancer & Blood Specialists of Nevada in Las Vegas for two and a half years. For the year 2015, Dr. Jahangir was also appointed chairman of oncology at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas, and, during that time, he facilitated the establishment of a palliative care program at the hospital.
Palliative care is critical, Dr. Jahangir says, and is about more than just assisting patients as they approach the end of their lives. It’s about taking a holistic approach to care to improve quality of life.
“A single patient is fighting a fight on many different fronts here, and we have to address that,” Dr. Jahangir says. “That’s where the notion of a robust palliative care program comes into play, where we’re treating the individual — mind, body and spiritual aspects of them.
“Human beings are composite of all their surroundings, and, when we treat cancer patients, or any patient for that matter, we’re not treating just the symptoms or the disease — we treat the individual as a whole,” Dr. Jahangir continues. “There’s a holistic approach toward this. And especially for cancer patients, we treat their family members [as well]. It’s all considered as one unit, the patient and family.”
Palliative care and cancer treatments for older patients are of particular interest to Dr. Jahangir who, along with a fellowship in hematology and oncology at LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans, also completed a fellowship in geriatrics at Maimonides Medical Center in New York.
During his geriatrics fellowship, Dr. Jahangir learned how to perform a complete assessment of an older patient, including how to determine physical age as opposed to just chronological age. This enables physicians to better determine what types of treatment an older patient would be best suited for, such as gene therapies versus chemotherapy.
“The biggest challenge we face in oncology these days is that the elderly population is underrepresented in all of the clinical trials that we do, which is a major problem because then the results of these clinical trials cannot be applied to this subgroup of patients in an appropriate fashion,” Dr. Jahangir says. “So either these patients get under treated or not treated at all based on the notion that they’re too old and may not be able to take chemotherapy.”
In addition to or in lieu of cancer treatments, palliative care and a holistic approach are also essential for this older population — and cancer patients overall.
“If you look at cancer patients in general, there’s a lot going on,” Dr. Jahangir says. “They’re frail, they’re malnourished. There’s cancer that is actively chewing bits and pieces of their body away. Then they have psychiatric issues, and they may be depressed. Then there are social issues they come across, such as when home care is an issue. There may be spiritual issues involved. … That was one of my major focuses in my geriatric fellowship training, how to learn and incorporate these [holistic] programs into patient care.”
Now back in New Orleans, Dr. Jahangir is committed to his work at EJGH but dreams of one day working in a community practice with involvement in clinical trials.
“It keeps me in touch with the academic portion of my practice, which is very important and keeps you at the forefront of medical literature and newer therapies that are constantly being evolved,” Dr. Jahangir says.
Attracted to the intimate nature of New Orleans and the collectiveness of local medical facilities, Dr. Jahangir plans to remain in New Orleans as he pursues the advancement of his chosen fields, geriatric oncology and palliative care — improving one life after another by taking a holistic approach to medicine and treating the whole patient: mind, body and spirit.
Khawaja Saad Jahangir, M.D.
East Jefferson General Hospital
4200 Houma Blvd., Metairie, LA 70006
Medical School: Ross University School of Medicine
Residency: Internal Medicine, University of Nevada School of Medicine
Fellowship: Hematology/Oncology, LSU School of Medicine/Geriatrics, Maimonides Medical Center
Board Certification: Oncology, Internal Medicine