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Venu G. Pillarisetty, MD

Dr. Pillarisetty is a surgical oncologist who cares for patients with pancreas cancer and other gastrointestinal malignancies.

Patient Care Philosophy:

As cancer doctors, our primary role is to help our patients decide among a dizzying array of treatment options including surgery. Compassion is the guiding principle of our multidisciplinary approach to patient care; therefore, we strive to advise patients as we would our own family while recognizing there may be fundamental differences in our belief systems. By forming a team that includes the patient, their family, doctors and other caregivers, we aim to help you define and achieve your goals in the treatment of your cancer.

Dr. Pillarisetty's Resume


  • Associate Professor, Division of General Surgery, University of Washington School of Medicine

Clinical Expertise

Surgical management of benign and malignant pancreatic and hepatobiliary disorders, general surgical oncology

Education And Training

  • BS: The University of Michigan – 1994
  • MD: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons – 1999
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – 2004
  • Residency: University of Massachusetts – General Surgery - 2007
  • Fellowship, Surgical Oncology: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center –   2009

More Information

Read more about Dr. Pillarisetty and his interests outside of SCCA here.

Dr. Pillarisetty's Story

When Venu Pillarisetty, MD started college, he thought he wanted to be a scientist, but not a physician. Since his father is a general surgeon, he was wary about going into medicine as a reflex response. Half way through his undergraduate studies in biochemistry, he realized he liked dealing with people, and that medicine could offer him the opportunity to continue in science while satisfying his social nature.

Dr. Pillarisetty attended Columbia Medical School and rotated through Harlem Hospital where his father worked, cementing his interest in also working in a public hospital.

"It’s ironic in a way that I’m doing research now, too,” Dr. Pillarisetty says. “I’m doing everything I wanted to and didn’t think I wanted to do."

His research involves studying the body’s immune response to pancreas cancer. He hopes to set up an immune therapy program at the SCCA in the future.

“There is a faulty immune response to pancreas cancer,” he says. “The immune system’s primary responsibility is to decide whether to attack or accept a potential target. Much of the early work in immunology was done in the context of organ transplantation, for which acceptance is the ultimate goal. In contrast, for an immune response to cancer, we want the immune system to recognize the cancer as abnormal and kill it. Recent data show that  pancreas cancer may be evading the immune response and actually might be getting assistance from the immune system.”

Unfortunately, current pancreas cancer therapies are only minimally effective, Dr. Pillarisetty says. “Even surgery is a rarely a perfect cure.”

Dr. Pillarisetty also does research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and hopes to find a way to target an immune response to a specific protein in pancreas cancer.

“A mentor of mine in residency advised me to pick the patients I like to care for, a disease I like to manage, and the colleagues I like to work with,” Pillarisetty says. “I now dole out the same advise to the medical students and residents who I get to work with. Pancreas and liver surgery are challenging, which is appealing to me. And from a research perspective, there is really a profound need for new treatments for pancreas cancer.

“Taking care of people with pancreas cancer makes you appreciate and make the most of life,” Dr. Pillarisetty says. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son, bicycling, taking photographs, and cooking.