February is National Cancer Prevention Month, an important time to highlight that primary care providers—such as physician assistants—are one key part of the healthcare team with an important role to play in cancer prevention, ultimately leading to survival.
“Living a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise and eliminating known risk factors is key to helping prevent cancer,” said Larisa Gallo, MMS ’12, who practices hematology and oncology at Tower Hematology Oncology Medical Group, one of the cancer centers of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Network in Beverly Hills, Calif. “Preventive screenings also can catch cancers in very early, curable states, and can also identify patients who need more intensive/frequent screening”
When Gallo entered the Physician Assistant Studies program at Salus University
, she was open to all specialties, but gravitated toward oncology after her uncle was diagnosed with and passed away from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer. Salus went out of its way to arrange a rotation in hematology/oncology, Gallo explained, which confirmed that oncology was the field she wanted to enter.
“Despite working in a highly specialized field, I use a lot of general medicine and basic skills that I learned during my training as a generalist physician assistant at Salus,” according to Gallo. “For example, I am assessing lung and cardiac function daily and maintain good use of those skills and knowledge. Salus University gave me such an excellent foundation that my on-the-job specific training in this field was relatively straightforward and easy to comprehend.”
Specifically in her role, Gallo works in 1-1 model with her supervising physician and sees patients undergoing treatment such as chemotherapy, as well as follow-up visits for patients in remission or surveillance. She treats various forms of cancers, and both malignant and benign hematology patients[AA1] . She has full privileges to write and sign chemotherapy orders and is credentialed to perform bone marrow biopsy and aspirations. As Gallo noted, “I am actually the first PA to have these privileges in hematology/oncology at Cedars.”
During National Cancer Prevention Month and year round, Gallo is dedicated to the importance of preventive care, impressing upon her patients to stay up-to-date on their routine healthcare and to listen to their body—which can often hint that something may not be right.
“Oncology is an amazing field to work in,” she said. “I learn every day as this field continues to evolve with new, exciting science - novel medications and new standards of care happen all the time. I stay abreast of recent data and clinical trials as to provide my patients with the latest information and treatments.” The New Jersey native appreciates the experiences she had at Salus and the primary care provider-patient relationships she has developed since being in practice while providing quality healthcare in a specialized field. “I feel blessed to be able to help people during what is often the most difficult and scary time of their life,” she said.
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