Meet the Radiation Oncologists: Six Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers Offer Radiation Oncology Programs
Angel Blanco, M.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist, Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center
As director of radiation oncology and stereotactic radiosurgery for the Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center, Dr. Angel Blanco oversees all radiation therapy services at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Texas Medical Center. He is certified in radiation oncology by the American Board of Radiology and specializes in adult radiation oncology with an emphasis on breast, central nervous system and body stereotactic cases. He also has expertise in Gamma Knife® radiosurgery, which is available only at the Texas Medical Center; intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT); and high-dose rate brachytherapy for cancer patients.
Dr. Blanco made the decision to become a doctor at the age of five or six.
“After one of my grandparents died from cancer, I never considered anything else,” he says.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Emory University, Dr. Blanco received his medical degree at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he became interested in the specialty of radiation oncology as a third-year medical student.
He was attracted by the blend of physics with computer technology and the opportunity to develop relationships with patients during the course of treatment.
Dr. Blanco completed his residency in radiation oncology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where he served as chief resident. Before joining the Mischer Neuroscience Institute and Mischer Neuroscience Associates-Texas Medical Center, he served as junior faculty in the head and neck service at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and was in community practice at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital.
He has lectured nationally and internationally on topics in radiation oncology, and has authored three textbook chapters and 30 articles and abstracts in peer-reviewed medical journals. He serves as a reviewer for the International Journal of Radiation Oncology-Biology-Physics, Cancer, Journal of Radiation Oncology, and Radiotherapy and Oncology. He has served as director-at-large of the Texas Society of Medical Oncology and also is a member of the American Association of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, National Cancer Institute and Texas Society of Clinical Oncology.
“We offer the full range of treatment modalities at the Institute, including Gamma Knife radiosurgery for brain tumors,” he says. “Our main goal in working with our patients is to tailor evidence-based treatments to each patient’s medical and lifestyle needs. We are unique among Memorial Hermann centers because we offer on-campus, subsite-directed tumor boards for virtually every oncologic site of interest.
In addition, the close association with subspecialists at UTHealth provides patients access to a vast range of expertise in the treatment of cancer.”
Shariq Khwaja M.D., Ph.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist, Memorial Hermann Mischer
Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center and
Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center
Initially interested in becoming a scientist, Dr. Shariq Khwaja worked in the Cancer Research Lab in his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Somewhere in the middle of college, I realized I was interested in more than the basic molecular biology of cancer and that I also wanted to treat patients,” the radiation oncologist says. “In order to do both, I decided to pursue a combined M.D./Ph.D. program.”
Dr. Khwaja earned his M.D. and Ph.D. at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, through the Mayo Clinic Medical Scientist Training Program. While rotating through the cancer-related specialties in medical school, his love of radiobiology and physics drew him to the technical aspects of radiation oncology.
“It’s a highly technical, very localized therapy in which we’re firmly involved in the multidisciplinary nature of patient care,” he says. “In treating patients daily for six weeks, we really get to know them and their families. The research opportunities available in radiation oncology also appealed to me.”
After his internship in internal medicine at Parkland Memorial Hospital/ The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Dr. Khwaja went on to complete his radiation oncology residency at Barnes Jewish Hospital/Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He was the recipient of an Integrated Clinical and Translational Science Research Award in 2014, and his project on human papillomavirus-related head and neck cancer biomarkers was awarded the American Society of Radiation Oncology Clinical Research Award in 2015. The following year, he was the recipient of the Radiological Society of North America’s Roentgen Resident/Fellow Research Award.
It was at Washington University that Dr. Khwaja developed a special interest in high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy for prostate, breast and gynecological cancers. When he joined the medical staff at Memorial Hermann and the faculty of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, he brought the technique with him, taking brachytherapy to the next level within the health system.
“During brachytherapy, we treat tumors with very high doses of localized radiation that greatly reduces the dose to surrounding healthy tissues,” he says.
“Treatment lasts only a few minutes. Using image guidance, we place tiny, hollow catheters in the prostate and then insert a radioactive wire into each of the catheters. Treatment with HDR brachytherapy lasts a day or two versus the usual eight to nine weeks of treatment with external beam radiation therapy for prostate cancer.”
Dr. Khwaja also has clinical interests in intensity-modulated radiation therapy, image-guided and adaptive radiation therapy, advanced localization systems, partial breast irradiation, prostate low dose-rate brachytherapy, and Gamma Knife® and Linac-based radiosurgery. He practices primarily at Memorial Hermann Memorial City, where the patient population is a good fit for his particular interests in prostate and breast cancer.
He also treats children with cancer and spends one day a week at Memorial Hermann-TMC conducting research.
Dr. Khwaja’s research has been published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology and Physics, Cancer Medicine, Otology and Neurotology, Clinical Breast Cancer, American Journal of Clinical Oncology and Journal of Clinical Investigation, among other journals.
“Patient safety and patient satisfaction are our main goals,” he says. “As radiation oncologists we use extremely high energy X-rays to treat cancer, and this must be done in a precise and accurate manner.
From a patient satisfaction standpoint, we’re intimately involved with care, assessing any side effects on a daily to weekly basis, depending on the patient and the treatment.”
Mi Kyung “Micki” Ko M.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist Memorial Hermann Northeast Hospital
Originally from Chicago, Dr. Micki Ko is a graduate of the Honors College at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While in college, she volunteered at the University Hospital, where she learned she had the right skill set to be a doctor.
“I loved math and physiology, and I felt compassion for patients and their families,” says Dr. Ko, who wrote her honors thesis on the epidemiology of breast cancer. “I felt a calling to combine all these skills into the art and science of medicine. As a physician, I treat not only the body, but offer healing to the mind and soul in the process.”
Dr. Ko had a special interest in women’s medicine when she enrolled at Rush Medical College in Chicago. “During medical school rotations, I would spend a lot of time with women with breast, cervical and uterine cancers. I wanted to learn everything I could about oncology and did rotations in gynecology oncology, medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology. One doctor gave a talk on stereotactic radiosurgery, and I thought it was a perfect match for me. I loved the physics of radiation and the idea of targeted treatment of cancer anywhere in the body.”
Dr. Ko completed her residency training at the University of California, Irvine Integrated Program in Radiation Oncology, where she was chief resident. Before coming to Houston, she practiced radiation oncology in a group setting in the Los Angeles area.
She has published research on neoplastic transformation and continues to serve as a medical adviser for the Milburn Foundation, which funds grants supporting research in inflammatory/triple negative breast cancers. Dr. Ko is a member of the American Society for Radiation Oncology and the Harris County Medical Society.
Dr. Ko sees and treats patients with virtually all tumor types, including breast, prostate, head and neck, lung, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary, brain, lymphoma and skin cancers. She has given talks on techniques to reduce the toxicity of breast cancer radiation therapy to the community. Modalities available at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Northeast include conventional external beam radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which delivers high doses of radiation in a few fractions to organs such as the lung, allowing for treatments to be completed within a shorter timeframe.
“Many patients come in with fears about radiation therapy,” she says. “I’m happy to spend as much time as needed to answer their questions. My number-one goal is delivering curative doses of radiation while minimizing its side effects and alleviating symptoms while maintaining the best quality of life the patient can achieve. Following consultation, my patients leave with a more thorough understanding of their treatment and a greater sense of calm.
I’m very fortunate to work in a field I love. There’s nothing else I could imagine doing.”
Beth Sands, M.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital
A native Houstonian, Dr. Beth Sands grew up in a medical family. “My father was a physician, but I did not necessarily plan to follow the same path,” she says. “In college at the University of Virginia, I came to realize that a career in medicine offered the combination of an intellectual challenge with the opportunity to serve others.”
Before entering medical school, Dr. Sands took a year off to explore the Northeast United States and accepted a position in Boston as a clerk at Harvard Community Health Plan, a large HMO with a strong focus on quality care. “I discovered that I really loved the cancer patients,” she says. “People with cancer tend to be straightforward and cut to the chase. When I entered Baylor College of Medicine, I planned to specialize in medical oncology. Then a friend at MD Anderson suggested I do a rotation there in radiation oncology.”
She was captivated. “I liked the combination of intense interaction with patients and the opportunity to develop deep relationships with them, as well as the technical aspects of radiation oncology,” she says. She went on to complete her residency in radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
At the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-The Woodlands, Dr. Sands treats all adult malignancies and has a special interest in breast cancer. She and her partners review each new patient’s case and radiation plan together, providing an additional level of quality assurance.
Dr. Sands also specializes in gynecologic brachytherapy for cervical and uterine cancers. High dose-rate brachytherapy, using an applicator that is placed in or near the tumor or tumor bed, allows the delivery of high doses of radiation to the tumor or tumor bed directly, reducing exposure to the bowel, bladder and other surrounding healthy tissue. Other modalities available at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-The Woodlands include traditional external beam radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which is high-dose radiation delivered in a few fractions, allowing for treatments to be completed within a shorter time frame.
Dr. Sands is a member of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She participates in numerous hospital committees and is past president of the North Branch of the Harris County Medical Society. She served on the executive board of the Harris County Medical Society and on the board of trustees of the Houston Academy of Medicine. She serves on the advisory council for Canopy, a community cancer survivorship center that addresses the emotional, physical and social needs of those whose lives are touched by cancer.
“We have a very strong radiation oncology team at The Woodlands,” she says. “Our mission is to offer personalized, evidence-based, compassionate care with a strong focus on patient safety and patient satisfaction.”
Aparna Surapaneni, M.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital
Originally from New York City, Dr. Aparna Surapaneni graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in materials science engineering with a focus on biomedical applications. After college she worked with AmeriCorps, a public service initiative where she developed and implemented after-school education programs in Boston, Massachusetts.
“At that point I thought that combining my background in engineering with medicine would be an interesting clinical niche,” she says. She completed a master’s degree in biophysics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and then enrolled in the State University of New York Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, where she received her medical degree.
“In medical school I enjoyed oncology and working with cancer patients and a friend suggested that, with my interest in engineering, I might enjoy radiation oncology,” she says. “I spent a week shadowing radiation oncologists and decided it was the right field for me.”
Dr. Surapaneni completed her residency training in radiation oncology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where she was chief resident. Prior to joining the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights, she was an attending physician at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, New Jersey.
“I’m new to Houston and am enjoying exploring the city,” she says. “We have a great team, including our Oncology Nurse Navigator Angela Sisk, who does a wonderful job of guiding each patient from diagnosis through treatment and follow-up. All of Memorial Hermann’s Cancer Centers are accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. What’s unique about our program here at Greater Heights is that we’re also accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, which ensures that we meet the highest standards of care for patients with diseases of the breast. We meet as a team – radiation oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology – to discuss each patient diagnosed with breast cancer to develop an individualized treatment plan.”
The Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights offers all the standard treatment modalities including traditional external beam radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), which is high-dose radiation delivered in a few fractions, allowing for treatments to be completed within a shorter time frame.
Patients who would benefit from a therapy unavailable at Greater Heights can be easily referred to another of Memorial Hermann’s six radiation therapy centers.
Dr. Surapaneni has published research on gynecologic and prostate cancers and is a member of American Society of Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She enjoys helping patients through a difficult time in their lives.
“We’re compassionate and mindful of all aspects of each of our patients’ lives and healthcare needs,” she says. “We work hard to help them through their diagnosis as smoothly as possible so that they can move forward with their lives. Ultimately, our goal is to take the very best care of our patients.”
Theodore Yang, M.D.
Affiliated Radiation Oncologist Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital
Dr. Ted Yang says he decided to become a physician in two phases: the first when his grandfather was diagnosed with cancer and the latter while working as a medical physicist.
“I was 12 when we found out my grandfather had lung cancer, which gave me a desire to go into medicine,” says Dr. Yang, who received his bachelor’s degree in physics from The University of Texas at Austin and went on to work as a medical physicist with several radiation oncologists before attending medical school. “It was because of the compassion and dedication of these doctors that I decided to become a radiation oncologist.”
After receiving his medical degree and completing residency training in radiation oncology at The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, he joined the UTMB faculty specializing in head and neck radiation therapy and prostate and gynecologic brachytherapy.
Board certified in therapeutic radiology, Dr. Yang has practiced radiation oncology in southeast Houston since 1984.
Dr. Yang and the radiation oncology team at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Southeast are strongly focused on patient education. “Radiation oncology gives us the opportunity as physicians to sit for an hour or two and chat with the patient,” he says. “Not too many patients understand radiation, which makes that first face-to-face meeting so important. The specialty is much more advanced than it used to be, and for most patients it’s not difficult to go through the treatments once we dispel their fears.”
The Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Southeast offers external beam radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT), and high dose-rate brachytherapy, and will begin offering stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) this fall. Patients who would benefit from a therapy unavailable at Southeast can be referred easily to another of Memorial Hermann’s six radiation therapy centers.
Dr. Yang is a member of professional medical societies, including the Harris County Medical Society, Texas Medical Association, American Medical Association, American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, and the Chinese American Doctors Association of Houston.
For more information or to refer a patient for radiation therapy, please contact Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers:
Greater Heights - 713.867.4668
Memorial City - 713.242.3500
Northeast - 281.540.7905
Southeast - 281.929.4200
Texas Medical Center - 713.704.2674
The Woodlands - 713.897.5655