Mobile menu open

Ayesha Noorani, Upper GI Surgeon

On International Women’s Day 2024, Ayesha Noorani has shared her journey to become the first academic consultant Upper GI Surgeon at CUH after being awarded a CRUK Clinician Scientist Fellowship.

Ayesha Noorani
Ayesha Noorani

I am the first woman to hold the role of a consultant upper-gastrointestinal surgeon at Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) and I operate on people who have cancer of the stomach or oesophagus, aggressive cancers with devastatingly poor outcomes.

My uncle, who I was very close to, died of oesophageal cancer in his early 50s and he presented with symptoms very late. This led me to do my PhD in oesophageal cancer to study how cancers evolve using whole-genome sequencing. I became fascinated about how each cancer genome essentially tells its own story, from the earliest stages of cancer development to when the cancer spreads.

In 2018 I was awarded an NIHR (National Institute for Health and Care Research) Academic Clinical Lectureship, the first in the upper gastrointestinal department. I am delighted to have since been awarded a Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist grant; this allows me to pursue my independent scientific career alongside cancer surgery, as the first academic consultant oesophago-gastric cancer surgeon in the department.

I am particularly interested in how we can identify early genomic imprints in normal tissue of the stomach and oesophagus before any changes under the microscope, using cutting-edge sequencing technologies developed at the nearby Wellcome Sanger Institute, where my science is based. If we can understand how these early changes prevent a cancer or accelerate its development, we may be able to harness this knowledge for therapies and diagnostic tests. The same principles of evolution apply throughout cancer treatment.

"I see patients throughout their cancer journey and it is a privilege to know them, support them and hear their story. Seeing them recover and get back to their lives, getting back to what defines them is inspirational for me."


I recently treated a remarkable lady in her 70s who asked when she’d be able to get back to the rock and roll dancing that she loves. I professed my love of ballroom dancing and told her I represented Cambridge University at competition level and performed in Blackpool in 2015. We have agreed to a dance challenge when she is well enough and settled on a jive – we wanted something punchy!

I was raised in a family with a strong work ethic and taught to always respect people and their values. Even if I only have ten minutes in a busy clinic, or I'm on call or haven’t had a break (a scenario common to many of us) - I endeavour to park everything to give the patient the ten minutes they deserve and to be present with them and hear their story. They have been waiting a long time to see the doctor, and it’s imperative that they are heard and often our concerns may not be the same as theirs.

I have been able to compartmentalise my various job roles a lot better since having children, and for me personally, there is no bigger strength than being a mother. I also feel like I have a role to help other women in their surgical careers, as women are in the minority, yet so many want to be surgeons and should be able to do so, without changing who they are.

"Women surgeons are still expected to fall within certain stereotypes, yet I hope with more of us, our individuality can be embraced and we can show that kindness and strength can and often do co-exist."


Training is arduous and having a network of mentors is key. Mentors and those that practice allyship can come in unexpected forms or shapes – middle-aged men with daughters can be bigger feminists than some women.

"There needs to be more dialogue and open conversations to make surgery more inclusive but it can take a long time to find your voice, to make a change."


The surgical environment does need to offer better representation, from giving more women access to robotic surgery for example, to ensuring more women are in leadership positions. As the first academic consultant upper-gastrointestinal surgeon in the department, I hope to contribute to positive change and always aim to inspire inclusion, the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day.