Dr. V. Shanta: A Tribute

The Goddess of Cancer Care

Dr. V. Shanta

Padma Vibhushan Doctor V. Shanta, fondly referred to as the Goddess of Cancer Care, was born on Mar 11, 1927, in Chennai. She belonged to a family which had seen eminent personalities like Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist S Chandrasekhar, and Nobel laureate and Bharat Ratna awardee Sir C V Raman. At a time when women did not think beyond their households, Dr. Shanta grew up to be independent, and was also known for her discipline and punctuality.

Dr. Shanta did her MBBS in 1949, her DGO in 1952, and her M.D. (Obstetrics & Gynaecology) in 1955, all from the prestigious Madras Medical College (MMC). In 1957, she formally trained in oncology in Toronto and, in 1958, studied bone marrow transplantation in the U.K. Her meeting with Dr S Krishnamurthi, in 1950, during her first posting as a house surgeon, in the newly opened cancer ward, influenced here to switch to Oncology.

It was five years later, in 1955, after her MD, that she let go of the opportunity to work in the Government Maternity Hospital and instead joined Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy (whose work had profound impact on Dr. Shanta) and Dr. Krishnamurthi, in their newly started Cancer Institute. She has been there ever since, and over the next 65 years, transformed the 12-bed hospital into a go-to place for cancer-care.

Dr. Shanta attributed 2 major causes of Cancer: Heredity and Lifestyle (which includes habits, food and hygiene). She believed that up to a point, cancer can be prevented, and if its onset is detected early, it can be cured. Her total dedication, positive touch and confidence instilling words made a world of difference to the patients, and it proved that cure does not happen by medicines or procedures alone.

In Dr. Shanta’s words,

Every patient does not get whatever is available. Money decides who will get what form of treatment. And that’s sad. Also, medicine was once an art: of listening, showing compassion, and being humane. With technology, the art of listening is gone. The Cancer Institute stays true to its mission of service and commitment to patients. Only those who can afford have to pay.

Dr Shanta, chairperson of The Cancer Institute at Adyar in Chennai, and doyen of oncology, who focused her expertise over half a century in trying to make cancer care affordable in the country, died of a heart attack at the age of 93 on 19th Jan 2021. She dedicated her life for Cancer cure, and is aptly known as the Goddess of Oncology. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1986, Padma Bhushan in 2006 and Padma Vibhushan in 2016, apart from Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2005, to name a few. She was not only a great physician, but also a great administrator, and above all a great humanitarian.