Science and empathy: Dr. Agrawal mixes leading-edge cancer care with the human side of healing

Mother’s experience surviving breast cancer led a young woman to become an oncologist.

When Laila S. Agrawal, M.D., was a child, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and became a cancer survivor.

“I saw what she went through, and it really influenced me. I was drawn to medicine and from the beginning knew I would go into oncology,” said Dr. Agrawal, a hematologist and oncologist with Norton Cancer Institute.

She attended Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, did her internal medicine residency at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and completed a hematology/oncology fellowship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she also served as chief fellow.

Dr. Agrawal was inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society and the Gold Humanism Honor Society.

When science meets empathy

As a hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Agrawal knows the latest and best treatments available, but she never forgets the human side of healing.

“It’s important for me to give the most cutting-edge medical recommendation, but it’s just as important to me to be present with the patient during those difficult moments,” she said.

Dr. Agrawal participates in the Norton Healthcare Breast Health Program. She practices at the newly opened Norton Cancer Institute – Brownsboro and at the Norton Cancer Institute – Downtown locations.

The Norton Healthcare Breast Health Program allows newly diagnosed patients to see a breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist and geneticist on the same day. Services also include nurse navigators, who will guide patients through the new world of being a cancer patient.

“We all work very closely together to strive to give seamless, cohesive care to the patient,” Dr. Agrawal said. “I feel that the team approach dramatically improves the care patients are receiving.”

More precise cancer treatment

Research breakthroughs have led to a wave of new and better treatments for cancer patients.

“This is an exciting time to be in oncology because there is an unprecedented number of new treatments coming out,” Dr. Agrawal said. “These treatments are attacking cancer in new ways, like harnessing the immune system or targeting the cancer rather than the healthy body.

“We’ve reached a pivotal point where we can give more precise and personal treatment. We want to be able to treat cancer more effectively and at the same time minimize the side effects. We have learned that many patients with breast cancer do not need chemotherapy.”

Norton Healthcare Breast Health Program

Newly diagnosed patients may see a breast surgeon, plastic surgeon, radiation oncologist and geneticist on the same day. Services for patients also include nurse navigators, who will guide them through the new world of being a cancer patient.

Learn more

Dr. Agrawal believes that having the option to participate in clinical trials is important.

“Clinical trials give the opportunity to receive treatments that would otherwise not be available to most patients and help improve cancer care for patients in the future,” Dr. Agrawal said.

Louisville means family

Dr. Agrawal and her husband, Arpit Agrawal, M.D., a cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists, have two young daughters. Her husband was born and raised in Louisville.

“We came back to Louisville to be close to family,” she said.

In their spare time, they like to travel and spend time with family and friends.

“Before kids, we would backpack. Now we travel with diaper bags!” she joked.

Dr. Laila Agrawal loves being a doctor.

“I like to get to know every patient as an individual — what’s important in their life, in their family, their goals and how that plays into important decisions about their health,” she said. “I do this because I can make a difference in people’s lives.”

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