From the doctor
Dr. Richard L. Whelan has been the Chief of the Colon and Rectal Surgery Service as well as the Chief of Surgical Oncology at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital since July 2009. Dr. Whelan had been the Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital for 18 years. He also held the position of Associate Director of Surgical Oncology at Columbia from 2007-2009. Dr. Whelan has been selected by his peers as one of the “Best Doctors in New York” for the last 10 years and has also been awarded the “Patients Choice,” “America’s Top Doctor,” and “Top Doctor for Cancer” awards over the last decade.
Dr. Whelan was one of the first surgeons in New York to perform laparoscopic colectomy and has performed over 1,800 minimally invasive colorectal resections (MICR) for cancer, diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease, rectal prolapse and constipation. He introduced the hybrid laparoscopic method for rectal cancer in 2001 and also helped develop hand-assisted minimally invasive methods. Dr. Whelan participated in the world’s first multi-center randomized trial, headed by the Mayo Clinic, that compared laparoscopic and the traditional big incision “open” methods. This study demonstrated that laparoscopic methods were associated with a shorter stay in the hospital, a quicker resumption of diet and bowel movements, and less pain than big incision operations. Importantly, this study also found that MICR is as thorough as open operations in removing the colon and adjacent lymph nodes and that the long term survival and recurrence rates were the same for the new and the old methods. Dr. Whelan is presently involved with 3 other randomized clinical trials assessing laparoscopic methods for rectal cancer removal as well as a new bowel rejoining technique.
In addition to minimally invasive bowel resections, Dr Whelan also performs therapeutic colonoscopy in the outpatient endoscopy suite at Roosevelt Hospital. He is also developing a combined laparoscopic and advanced colonoscopic method for the removal of large benign polyps that usually require a colon resection. When successful, the entire colon is preserved. Dr. Whelan also performs the full array of anorectal operations for hemorrhoids, anal fissures, fistulas, anal condylomata. Dr. Whelan also performs transrectal ultrasound examinations to stage rectal cancers using the latest equipment in the office setting.
In addition to his clinical activities, Dr. Whelan has been the director of a basics science and clinical research lab since 1996 that has published 105 peer reviewed original research articles and over 40 chapters and review articles. He has given over 340 invited lectures, grand rounds, and oral presentations at surgical and oncologic meetings in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, South America and Asia. This lab has raised over $3,000,000 for this research from peer reviewed grants, surgical device and pharmaceutical companies, and grateful patients. At St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital the lab has also set up and is maintaining a tumor and blood “bank” that obtains and stores tissue samples from consenting patients; this tissue is then used for a variety of cancer research studies.
The lab’s main purpose has been to determine how laparoscopic and open surgical operations affect the patient’s physiology and immune function. The lab was one of the first to discover that surgery, open methods more than laparoscopic, causes some temporary changes in blood composition that actually promote the growth of tumor deposits that may remain after the primary cancer has been removed. During the past 7 years the lab has been searching for safe anti-cancer drugs that can be safely taken by patients during the month before and the month following surgery. The lab has performed one randomized trial wherein cancer patients received the immune system stimulator, GMCSF, before and after surgery and demonstrated that it was safe and well tolerated. The lab is presently starting a similar study in which patients, before and after surgery, will take pills containing a green tea extract and a drug called siliphos (from the milk thistle plant) that have been shown to inhibit cancer growth.
Dr. Whelan is a member of many national surgical societies including the colorectal surgery society (A.S.C.R.S), the premier laparoscopic and endoscopic society (S.AG.E.S.), the Society of University Surgeons, and the gastrointestinal surgery society (S.S.A.T). He was on the S.A.G.E.S. Board of Governors for 4 years and has served on numerous committees in both S.A.G.E.S. and the A.S.C.R.S. He is also a member of the New York Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons and was the President of this society from 2004 to 2006.