Surbhi Shah, 2016

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The treatment of prostate cancer, the most common type and second leading cause of cancer death in American men 65 and older, varies widely based on the risk of disease progression, patient/ clinician preference, and presence of additional simultaneous illnesses.

While several treatment strategies are available for localized prostate cancer, men 65 and older tend to choose minimally invasive options (such as conservative management and cryosurgery) due to their intolerance towards other, more aggressive treatments.

However, limited information exists regarding the long-term effects and survival rates of these minimally invasive treatment options.

Surbhi Shah, a doctoral student in the Department of Clinical and Administrative Pharmacy, hopes to change this by helping patients and their health care providers make informed healthcare decisions.

Her dissertation research, under the direction of Dr. Henry N. Young, compares the effectiveness and long-term outcomes of two prostate cancer treatments typically chosen by older patients – conservative management and cryotherapy.

“My aim is to compare treatments based on their effectiveness, treatment side-effects, survival rates, long term costs and any mental health issues diagnosed during their cancer treatment,” she says.

Using the Medicare database, Shah analyzes the treatment options and associated health outcomes in patients 65 and older who are suffering from prostate cancer.

“My dissertation research specifically uses information from the database about the services they utilize along with the costs, other conditions they suffer from, date of diagnosis, date of death, and reason of death, she explains.

“I then use this information to follow these patients over time- sometimes as long as ten years or more- to see whether they survived, and if not, how long they survived with cancer and what kind of side-effects they encountered over time with their chosen treatments.”

Shah hopes her research gives patients and health care providers more confidence by providing long-term evidence that they are making informed decisions regarding their choice of treatment.

“I hope to help patients weigh the pros and cons of these treatments (regarding side-effects, mental health issues, costs, and survival) so they can choose treatments that help them achieve their own health care goals,” she says.

Additionally, Shah’s research will help patients, healthcare providers, and policy makers weigh the effectiveness of treatment and costs- increasing a patient’s chances of getting efficient and quality care without unnecessary resource utilization.

“I hope that my findings from this comparative effectiveness research can assist health policy makers and healthcare providers in making informed treatment decisions to optimize patient care. Evidence from this study could also guide policy makers in changing reimbursement policy by justifying resource allocations.”

After graduation, Shah plans to work for a pharmaceutical or healthcare company where she can continue to help advance healthcare policy in the United States.

“The past few years at UGA have made me realize that I can successfully accomplish all my dreams and offer something valuable to individuals, the healthcare system, and society.”