August 15, 2017 | by Travis Marshall
Misagh Karimi, M.D., grew up in Iran as part of the Bahá'í religious minority. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, while Karimi was in still high school, the new government under Ayatollah Khomeini began a program of persecution against the Bahá'í.
“I was expelled from high school and not allowed to go to university,” Karimi said. “So, I fled the country with my sister, first to Pakistan for a year, then to the U.S. as a refugee.”
When he arrived in the U.S., Karimi reunited with his brother, who had already settled in San Jose, California.
“I starting doing volunteer work, and that’s how I discovered I had a love and interest in caring for patients.”
Finally free to continue his education, he enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, then went on to obtain his medical degree at George Washington University.
“I quickly realized that oncology was where I wanted to be,” Karimi said. “It’s an amazing scientific field, with so much to figure out, and I also love working with the patients.”
Since then, Karimi’s passion for working with patients has developed into a dedication and focus on patient education.
“I’m really interested in what patients can do for themselves beyond pharmaceuticals,” Karimi said. “I spend a lot of time going over lifestyle factors, especially diet, exercise and weight loss – things that patients have the power to change for themselves.”
After medical school, Karimi spent nearly a decade at the University of California, Irvine, where he eventually became an instructor. This was followed by two years at Oregon's Knight Cancer Institute in Portland before he moved back to Southern California to join the Wilshire Oncology Medical Group, which later became City of Hope's Corona facility, a satellite location that provides Riverside County residents access to City of Hope’s experts closer to home. Karimi currently serves as assistant clinical professor for City of Hope’s Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.
As part of the small team based in Corona — two medical oncologists, one radiation oncologist — Karimi treats patients with a wide range of cancers.
“We can’t just focus on one disease, so we collaborate a lot with the doctors at the main campus,” he said. “We’re also doing some clinical trials from Duarte at our site, including immunotherapy studies in breast cancer.”
But Karimi’s experience working with a variety of patients has also helped him recognize the dramatic effects lifestyle and environmental factors can have on both cancer risk and the success of patients’ recoveries.
“With patients who are survivors doing follow-up in our clinic, our main discussion is about diet and exercise,” he explains. “These are very important questions, and it’s something we never really covered in medical school.”
Karimi believes that understanding the connections between obesity and cancer could be a vital part of addressing the current cancer epidemic. To that end, he’s active in the local community, working to educate people about the connections between lifestyle factors like obesity and cancer risk, especially for breast, colon, esophageal and stomach cancers, which have strong connections to obesity.
“We’re seeing so many cancers on the rise, so we have to look at the epidemiological aspects, the things we do to ourselves,” he said. “We go to senior residences, conventions and other events — we’re definitely trying to educate the public.”