In With the New

A recent trend toward organ preservation for patients with rectal cancers could mean fewer procedures in the long run, but Lara McKean Basté, MD, one of The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center’s newest colorectal surgeons, is perfectly fine with that.

“I think for me, what I find most interesting about rectal cancer is the multidisciplinary and individualized care and a new trend in treatment to offer organ preservation instead of surgery in selected patients,” she said.

“I love surgery, but I also know the consequences of doing surgery. I saw UNM was also interested in this treatment strategy that might be more beneficial for some patients and I wanted to be in a cancer center where I could offer that approach.”

McKean Basté said she knew she wanted to go into the medical field at a young age. But her initial interests were further up in the body.

“I went to my mother when I was 8 years old and told her I wanted to be a surgeon,” she said. “I think I told her I wanted to be a cardiac surgeon. It wasn’t until medical school that I decided it would be colorectal surgery.”

McKean Basté said the diversity of diseases in the lower intestine is what drew her to the practice. There are relatively benign issues like hemorrhoids, and there are severe diseases such as colitis and cancers.

“With both, you have a huge impact on the patient,” she said. “You can greatly improve their quality of life with both of them.”

McKean Basté grew up in Barcelona, Spain, and completed her medical schooling there. She did her general surgery residency at Yale University and Ochsner Health in New Orleans and fell in love with colorectal surgery during that time. She completed her fellowship in colorectal surgery at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore.

McKean Basté said she continued to develop her passion for surgery throughout her training in the U.S. There is a certain artistry or craftsmanship to surgery that first drew her to it, she said. The pace of surgery and the need to be ready for anything were also draws.

“You’re essentially creating and fixing things and you’re doing that with your own hands,” she said. “The nice thing about surgery is you can see the impact you have in your patients almost immediately, compared to other specialties.”

McKean Basté added that new technologies in surgery are also a bonus. Surgeons have access to advanced robotics and laparoscopic procedures, as well as large, open surgeries that allow her to refine her approach based on the patient.

Coming to the U.S. has allowed her to grow both as a surgeon and in her personal life.

“It was a hard transition, but I think it was a great life experience,” she said. “Moving to another country where I didn’t know the culture or how the system worked and having to learn to navigate this unfamiliarity was a challenge that made me grow as an individual.”

The UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center’s mission to serve all New Mexicans and its focus on serving all communities in the state resembled the system in which McKean Basté studied medicine in Barcelona.

“The mission of UNM really got me here,” she said. “Serving the population of New Mexico and being more in the public health sphere – that was one of the reasons that drew me to UNM specifically. I really thought the mission was aligned to my ethics.”

The availability of clinical trials and especially the team approach at the UNM Cancer Center is also something she enjoys. It goes back to the idea that in colorectal surgeries, sometimes less is literally more.

“The Cancer Center puts the interests of the patient at the center,” she said. “You have a diverse group of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists and radiologists all getting together trying to decide what is the best treatment option for you.”