The National Palliative Care Research Center

Curing suffering through palliative care research.


Kavita Dharmarajan, MD, MSc

Assistant Professor

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Grant Year
Grant Term
Grant Type
Junior Faculty Career Development

Project Description
Defining the Role of Palliative Care in Radiation Oncology

Each year approximately 3.7 million individuals suffering from advanced cancer undergo radiation treatment (RT) with palliative (non-curative) intent. Palliative RT can effectively alleviate cancer-related symptoms and improve quality of life but may also cause significant adverse effects. Radiation oncologists are well positioned to apply principles of palliative care when caring for these patients by delivering primary palliative care and appropriately referring complex patients for specialty palliative care services. Yet, integration in this regard has been lacking. Consequently, RT is often fraught with misaligned values, unrecognized treatment burdens, and unrealistic expectations of cure. My goal is to become an independent clinician-investigator at the intersection of palliative care and radiation oncology whose work improves the care of advanced cancer patients undergoing palliative RT. In this proposal I outline a focused research project, mentorship plan, and career development plan to catalyze my development into an independent investigator working to integrate palliative care practice principles into radiation oncology. I plan to perform a combined qualitative-quantitative investigation involving: (1) qualitative interviews with advanced cancer patients treated with palliative RT in the Mount Sinai Health System exploring treatment-related expectations, side effects and other burdens, and preferences for palliative care services around RT, (2) qualitative interviews with radiation oncologists to ascertain providers’ perceptions of palliative care and barriers and facilitators to its delivery within radiation oncology, and (3) quantitative analyses of referral patterns to specialist palliative care among palliative RT patients. Findings and research skills acquired during the award period will inform development of a K23 application in which I design and pilot test interventions to enhance radiation oncologists’ provision of broader palliative care services in conjunction with palliative RT. These strategies will ultimately be vetted and disseminated through an R01-funded clinical trial that aims to improve outcomes for patients with advanced-stage cancer who undergo palliative RT.


Kavita Dharmarajan, MD, MSc is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and the Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin followed by a Master’s degree in health population science from the London School of Economics and a medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Kavita completed her residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  She was awarded an American Medical Association Foundation Grant for Outstanding Young Investigators to study shared decision-making for palliative radiation patients in 2012. In 2013, she received the Roentgen Research Award from the Radiological Society of North America. In 2015, she was selected as an AAHPM Research Scholar. Her primary research interests include improving access to palliative care for advanced cancer patients receiving radiation therapy as well as facilitating better communication and informed decision-making among advanced cancer patients, caregivers, and physicians.