Physicians focus on YOU at Henry Mayo Dr. Rashida Soni
As a medical director for the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Pathology department and co-investigator for a clinical trial laboratory, Dr. Rashida Soni is consistently solving health problems based on clues the same way a detective unravels crimes by piecing together important parts of the puzzle. Practicing pathology for almost 25 years now, she supervises all the testing at Henry Mayo Laboratory. Her work impacts nearly all aspects of patient care from diagnosing cancer and chronic diseases to prevention and primary care. Although she practices all aspects of pathology; her expertise is in breast diseases. While one of the pitfalls of being a pathologist is not having direct patient interaction, Dr. Soni finds great joy knowing she can make as big of a difference behind the scenes to make an accurate diagnosis, provide prognostic information and help surgeon to provide good cosmetic results; at the same time help cure the cancer. “Pathologists are the Doctor’s Doctor; therefore when I can nail down a diagnosis, I feel greatly rewarded,” she said.
Dr. Soni, in collaboration with the hospital’s well renowned surgical oncologist Dr. Gregory Senofsky, performs intraoperative frozen section procedures to examine breast tissue in a ten-minute window while the patient is still on the table; the end result significantly reduces the re-excision or re-surgery rate as compared to most places. In evaluation of breast conservation therapy, this multidisciplinary approach uses preoperative planning and intraoperative evaluation of the excised specimen to decipher whether or not the surgeon extracted all of the tumor or if there is still more work to be done. The two doctors presented their improved local recurrence rate on national platforms as well as internationally at the Milan Breast Cancer Conference in Italy. Since most community hospitals don’t generally have subspecialized pathologists, Henry Mayo is exceptional in using its doctor talent and technique to achieve such a high success rate and less margin for error.
When Dr. Soni is not busy racing against the clock to provide timely diagnosis, her typical workday brings new challenges providing intraoperative consultation, troubleshooting test results, and rendering microscope findings. Her natural ability to recognize details and patterns is exercised through her interpretations of blood tests, urine tests, tissue and surgical diagnosis, and genetic and molecular testing completed daily. She also contributes to the Tumor Board, discussing cancer cases that are not as straightforward while reaching the consensus of other physicians. Dr. Soni is also heavily involved in clinical trials, where she is responsible for the eligibility of patient experimentation with targeted treatments—one of the greatest innovations in this field. “I am proud of the enormous strides that the field of oncology has made in making cancer a potentially curable disease”,” she said, “ I cannot wait to see the future when you can inject a drug that selectively kills the cancer cell, causing no harm to the normal cells.”
Since joining the Henry Mayo staff in 2010, Dr. Soni has seen great improvement to old methods allowing for even greater patient outcomes. With comprehensive understanding of biology and tailored cancer treatments, more selective chemotherapy and targeted treatments have become readily available. Her world revolves around patterns, colors and meticulous details that provide vital clues in her field. For example, in one female patient she insisted that the tumor that actually showed up in her lung biopsy, was coming from her uterus; even though the patient had no symptoms related to her uterus. On further evaluation, the doctors were able to identify the tumor originating in her uterus and unfortunately invading the lung. “Practicing pathology is analogous to art and science of medicine,” Dr. Soni said.
Although Dr. Soni struggled during her primary education, she went on to pursue medicine and with her artistic passion; she trained in the Pathology Residency Program at Keck School of Medicine of USC. Unfortunately, both of her loving parents died prematurely while she was finishing up medical school. Her mother, a victim to breast cancer, was undergoing inadequate treatments available at the time and slowly declined after chemotherapy. “It was my promise to her that I will try my best to make a difference in the lives of other women with breast cancer or any other cancer,” she said, and so far, Dr. Soni has kept that promise.