May Physician of the Month: Llana Pootrakul

Llana Pootrakul

Patient care is a family affair for Llana Pootrakul, MD, PhD, whose comprehensive skills are on display at every step of skin cancer treatment.

The daughter of a nurse and a neurosurgeon, the Phoenix native’s journey from the Southwest to the Midwest included college and grad school in California and med school in New York, where her interests in cancer research, surgery and patient interaction came together, eventually leading to The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Pootrakul’s diverse skill set is a perfect fit at Ohio State, where she exemplifies The James’ comprehensive approach to cancer care by treating her patients from beginning to end, including the performance of Mohs surgery, a procedure that evaluates 100 percent of removed skin and has the highest cure rate of any skin cancer treatment.

At Ohio State since 2011, Pootrakul is joined by her husband Michael Tiso, MD, a specialist in sports and internal medicine with The Wexner Medical Center. The Buckeye couple lives in nearby Upper Arlington, where they can often be seen walking to the library with their three-year-old daughter, Grace.

Get to know our May Physician of the Month:

A life-changing view of a life-saving surgery

“The first real experience I had seeing a patient was when I was 16 and my dad allowed a friend and me to scrub in on one of his surgical cases. After the surgery, we saw the patient as she talked to my father, and I realized that he saved her life. That’s something I’ll always remember – you can help someone who is on the verge of death live their life again.”

Bringing it all together

“I did multiple rotations in medical school and I really loved dermatology – the visual and tactile assessments, the interpersonal interactions with patients – it had everything. When I was a resident, my mentor, Dr. David Carr, worked at The James, and I found that I really enjoyed surgery – it came naturally. If I wasn’t seeing patients at University Hospital, I would drive over here and volunteer to do surgeries, even on Saturdays.”

At home at The James

“I love being here at The James. The comprehensive approach allows us to work with colleagues from multiple disciplines and to offer patients new treatments through clinical trials. Everyone comes together with the goal of giving patients the best care possible.”

Step-by-step skin cancer specialty

“Skin cancer comes in all shapes and sizes – it can grow superficially or really deep in the skin. I give patients the best chance of getting rid of it completely. As a dermatologist, I can help them identify skin cancer, and as a surgical oncologist, I can remove it. I also play the role of pathologist and perform reconstructive surgeries.”

Realistic expectations through reconstruction explanations

“The number one goal of Mohs surgery is to cure skin cancer. The secondary goal is to preserve as much normal skin as possible, so I discuss reconstructive surgeries with each patient, including expectations of form and function, and I always let them know that I’m on their team. Educating them before we start is probably the most important thing we do.”

Early meetings can lead to happy endings

“The earlier patients see me, the smaller the cancer is, the smaller the reconstruction needs to be and the happier they are in the end. I would love to not have to see patients back in my surgery clinic – I love them to see me in the community and say “Hi,” but I’d love them to stay cancer-free. I like to say that physicians might be the only people trying to put themselves out of a job.”