Arti Hurria, MD, 'Giant' in Geriatric Oncology, Dies in Car Accident

Nick Mulcahy

November 09, 2018

Arti Hurria, MD, the acclaimed and beloved geriatric oncologist, died in an automobile accident this week in California. She is survived by her husband and daughter.

A medical oncologist, Hurria "pioneered" geriatric cancer care, according to a statement from her home institution, the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.

Dr Arti Hurria City of Hope

Hurria was the George Tsai Family Chair in Geriatric Oncology and director, Center for Cancer and Aging at City of Hope, among her many titles, appointments, and commitments.

When she received the endowed chair, Hurria articulated her vision for the future of geriatric oncology. "It's my mission, what I like to call 'the dream,' " she told a packed room, "that all older adults with cancer will receive personalized, tailored care, utilizing evidence-based medicine with a multidisciplinary approach."

Friends, colleagues, and patients immediately took to social media to memorialize Hurria and share her thoughts on being an oncologist.

Hurria saw oncology as an intimate practice: "The experience that comes with holding a patient's hand during a cancer diagnosis is one that I don't think is paralleled anywhere else in medicine, and I would welcome young doctors.... It's a beautiful way to live one's life, caring for such an incredible group of patients."

As a treating oncologist, Hurria believed in ancient medical precepts: "Even as we embrace new, exciting drugs and technologies, the time-honored tradition of compassion and active listening is the core of what we do."

Multiple admirers cited Hurria's life motto, an African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together."

"We Must Carry On Her Legacy"

Numerous posts on Twitter reflected that motto, describing her as a towering figure in her field.

"The oncology community mourns a giant in geriatric oncology," said Andrea Apolo, MD, chief of the Bladder Cancer Section, National Cancer Institute, who trained with Hurria at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"It's hard to think of another specialty that has benefitted so much from one person's work and achievements. Arti Hurria was a powerhouse," posted Shane O'Hanlon, MD of the University College Dublin in Ireland.

"Arti Hurria was a giant in our field, a kind, thoughtful, and generous visionary. She will be missed by patients, staff, colleagues and most of all, by her family," wrote Erica Breslau, PhD, MPH of the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute.

"How do oncologists, geriatricians, palliative care specialists deal with the death of their mentor, friend and hero?.... When I stop crying, we must carry on her legacy," said Tanya Wildes, MD of Washington University in St. Louis.

In a 2017 interview with Medscape Medical News, Hurria explained the fundamentals of practicing geriatric oncology: "The idea behind geriatrics is to really understand what the functional age is of the patient. Geriatricians do something called a geriatric assessment to try to understand what factors other than age predict someone's risk for morbidity or mortality from a certain outcome. They are asking things like, 'What is their function? What are their other medical problems? What is their cognition? What is their social support, their psychological state, and their nutritional status?' It is really taking this very comprehensive look at who an older individual is and then utilizing that as a part of the decision-making process."

Much can be learned from geriatric cancer patients Hurria said in another online post. With regard to receiving treatment (and experiencing debilitating side effects), she emphasized that "...eighty percent of our older patients say they would rather maintain their memory than survive. And they do not want their children to know. They have a great anxiety about becoming a burden."

Hurria was born in New York to Indian immigrant parents, both of whom were physicians. According to the City of Hope, at age 8, she and her family moved to Southern California for its more moderate climate. At 18, Hurria left the family home to attend medical school at Northwestern University in Chicago.

She completed her internship at Beth Israel Medical Center, did residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and received fellowships in geriatrics and oncology at the Harvard Geriatrics Fellowship Program and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, respectively.

Hurria is the recipient of the Frederick Stenn Memorial Award for Humanism in Medicine and the B. J. Kennedy Award and Lecture for Scientific Excellence in Geriatric Oncology.

She also was on the board of directors for the American Society of Clinical Oncology and was the chair and founder of the Cancer and Aging Research Group, co-chair for the Alliance Cancer in the Elderly Committee, past president of the International Society of Geriatric Oncology, and past chair of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Older Adult Oncology Committee (2010-2016). Most recently, she was inducted as a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.

In a 2016 online interview with Healio, Hurria said that oncologists "all work incredibly hard, but the rewards are so much greater than the effort that we place." She implored her colleagues: "Love your patients as much as you can. Give them as much as you can with all of your heart. They are in a vulnerable place, and kindness and compassion goes such a long way."

Follow Medscape senior journalist Nick Mulcahy on Twitter: @MulcahyNick

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