A lung cancer doctor explains how he got lucky to fill in a role in the lung cancer space, and his career and passion took off from there.
Dr. Kenneth Rosenzweig, professor and system chair in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, jokes that he has an empty chair to thank for the start of his distinguished career in treating lung cancer and mesothelioma.
According to Rosenzweig, when he finished training and took his first role at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the doctor who was treating lung cancer had just left. “I was told, ‘We need you to fill in,’” he says. “I got very lucky. Lung cancer was a huge interest to me.”
Rosenzweig has been instrumental in developing new radiation techniques to help people with mesothelioma. As surgery evolved from removing the entire lung and its lining to removing the lining only, radiation therapy became more challenging, he says. “With my colleagues at Sloan, I devised a technique to treat disease left behind on the surface of the lung while minimizing damage to the lung,” he says of the procedure known as pleural IMRT, which stands for intensity-modulated radiotherapy. “I’m very proud that it’s become the standard of care for patients.”
Rosenzweig has also contributed to innovation in stereotactic radiation techniques — particularly in determining the safest radiation dose for a patient and in evaluating the lung after treatment to distinguish between expected damage and damage that might indicate a tumor is recurring.
Innovation remains a theme in Rosenzweig’s clinic at Mount Sinai. He has developed processes that have led to error reduction and improved patient safety.
“When I came to Mount Sinai, we changed all our processes to make everything we do completely transparent throughout the department,” he says, adding that successful radiation treatment requires coordination among physicians, nurses, radiation therapists, physicists and administrative assistants. This process is now studied by medical professionals from all over the world who come to the clinic to observe and learn, he says.
Improving processes and helping others learn come naturally to Rosenzweig. He helped develop national standards for training in radiation oncology, contributing to committees with both the American Board of Radiology and the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education. As former director of residency programs at both Memorial Sloan Kettering and at Mount Sinai, Rosenzweig has trained many doctors who’ve gone on to specialize in lung cancer. “I’m very proud of that,” he says. “These doctors are leading programs across the country. They’re fantastic researchers and physicians.”
Rosenzweig says he likes to think he’s helped doctors have a better appreciation for and under- standing of radiation. “I certainly have a better understanding of medical oncology and surgery from what my colleagues have taught me,” he says.
His focus on innovation also plays a significant role in patient care. Rosenzweig remembers a former young patient with advanced lung cancer who had an extraordinarily poor prognosis.
She came to see him and a colleague, hoping they would take a more aggressive approach to her treatment. Rosenzweig treated her with some of the techniques he developed for mesothelioma, he says. She has since married, had children and become a lung cancer advocate.
“I think about her often when we’re faced with people for whom the situation doesn’t look good,” he says. “Coming up with safe ways to do aggressive treatment — that out of the box thinking — can really be impactful on an individual.”
In addition to practicing medicine, Rosenzweig serves on the city council in Englewood, New Jersey. “The issues I tackle at work are in some ways similar to the issues I deal with at the city level,” he says. “It’s ultimately about people wanting to live their best lives.”
Rosenzweig adds he’s been fortunate to see “astonishing” strides made in lung cancer care during his more than 20 years of practice. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time to be in the field,” he says.
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