Newswise — It takes a team to treat cancer.

That approach was what attracted Cherie Hayostek, MD, to radiation oncology 28 years ago. 

In October, she joined the team at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center after working closely with the physicians at the UNM Cancer Center as a radiation oncologist in Las Cruces.

“There are really strong surgeons and a cooperative environment,” Hayostek said. “They worked with me as an outside physician and I really liked that team approach.”

Hayostek worked for Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces from 2008 to 2019 and helped guide the hospital’s multimillion-dollar expansion project to offer more cancer care.

She often saw patients who had surgeries at UNM Cancer Center and came home to Las Cruces for follow-up treatment, and sometimes she would send her patients up to the Cancer Center for care.

Being able to coordinate treatment and work with other physicians to deliver the best care to her patients is what drew Hayostek to the UNM Cancer Center.

She always had an interest in oncology, but it wasn’t until a rotation at the Mayo Clinic during medical school that she discovered an interest in radiation oncology.

“I always say that it was then that I saw the light,” she said. “I had never even thought about radiation oncology until that rotation, and what I liked about it was we really got to know our patients. We followed them through all of their treatments and there were a lot of technical aspects to it. You have to know physics. We work with computers. We do a lot of technical things, as well as patient care.”

Hayostek received her bachelor of science of medicine and her medical doctor degree from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, in Vermillion, S.D. She graduated magna cum laude from medical school in 1987.

She completed an internship at McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., from 1987 to 1988 before her residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., from 1988 to 1992.

Hayostek also has worked for the Mayo Clinic at its locations in Jacksonville, Fla., and in Scottsdale, Ariz.

She has previously had academic appointments at three institutions. She was a radiation oncologist, assistant professor and medical director for community radiation oncology at the University of Utah. 

She served as an assistant professor and associate program director of the radiation oncology residency at Mayo Clinic Florida, and she has previously been an associate professor at UNM. In Las Cruces, Hayostek served as medical director for radiation oncology at Memorial Medical Center.

The expansion she oversaw helped add some of the newest equipment and more capacity to the hospital’s oncology department.

Technology has only gotten more efficient over the years, Hayostek said. What once could be a time-consuming process of calculating parameters of a radiation treatment now happens almost instantaneously.

It also makes for more precision.

“Now, every patient gets a CT scan so you can map out the areas you want to treat and the areas you don’t want to treat so we block out normal tissue and prevent side effects,” she said. But the human equation still remains the most important, she said.

“It’s a whole team of people in the department,” she said. “It’s not just the physician, it’s the therapist who turns on the machine, the dosimetrists who calculate doses and physicists who calibrate the machine. You have dieticians, social workers, psychologists and navigators that help patients get from one physician to the other.”

Hayostek has worked in rural and urban areas, but she said she has a fondness for more open, agrarian places.

“My husband and I went to high school in a town of 1,000 people in Iowa,” she said. “I would say that sometimes, in large cities, it can be easier to practice because you have everything all right there. Sometimes, in a rural practice you have to work a little harder to get patients the right treatment or to the right specialists.

“It’s more rewarding, because people appreciate the effort that we make. We can give them excellent treatment at the Cancer Center or in Las Cruces. Sometimes people don’t realize they have those things available, and you just need to help navigate them to the right place.”

At the UNM Cancer Center, Hayostek will treat all types of cancer, but she is particularly interested in gastrointestinal, breast and head and neck cancers.

She’s also interested in preventive medicine, having completed one year of UNM’s preventive medicine residency in June 2020.

“I’ve done a variety of things, but I’ve enjoyed every experience I’ve had,” she said.