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Michael Hurwitz, PhD, MD, Shares Why He’s a Kidney Cancer Physician/Scientist

March 10, 2022

As we honor Kidney Cancer Awareness Month and World Kidney Day, what do you feel is the most important message to share with our community?

As a field, kidney cancer has made major strides in the last fifteen years. We went from having two approved medications to having fifteen approved medications and others are on their way. Patients with kidney cancer are living much longer as well. But we have major challenges moving forward. Side effects from our treatments are a major difficulty for many of our patients and we have yet to solve many clinical issues, notably brain metastases and the treatment of less common subtypes. Research into the biology of kidney cancer will be the key to improving and lengthening our patients’ lives. Work by Dr. Harriet Kluger at Yale is delving into the causes and treatment of brain metastases and work by a new faculty member, Dr. David Braun, is answering basic questions about the biology of kidney cancer and how that biology can be exploited to treat it.

What attracted you to kidney cancer as a specialty?

Some cancers have typical types of patients. Kidney cancer is not one of them. I love the wide of range of patients I have the privilege to care for. Biologically, kidney cancer is also an outlier. Unlike in other cancers, chemotherapy has no role. Kidney cancer is sensitive to immunotherapy treatments but doesn’t look like other cancers that are immune-sensitive. Though we know a lot about the biology that often causes kidney cancer, it does not fit neatly into the patterns that we expect for most cancers. These unusual features of its biology drew me to kidney cancer research and treatment and have kept me fascinated over the years.

How do you collaborate with the kidney cancer team at Smilow Cancer Hospital to care for patients?

Kidney cancer treatment is always a team effort. From the beginning, our interventional radiologists help us make the diagnosis by biopsying tumors, which our pathologists then interpret for us. Without expert pathologists diagnosing the correct subtype of kidney cancer we would not even know how to treat our patients. Our urologic surgeons cure patients with disease that has not spread by taking out kidneys and work with us in patients with more advanced disease to prevent complications of the disease. Our radiation oncologists and neurosurgeons work together to treat our patients with brain metastases. And our radiation oncologists and interventional radiologists work together with us to treat metastases that cause patients pain or other issues. Lastly, the medical oncologists are constantly conferring with each other on the best management of our patients.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in cancer research?

The most important advice I would give someone considering a career in cancer research is the following: Cancer research is a huge field. You could study chemistry or biology in a lab or do patient-centered work or study the epidemiology of cancer or a world of other questions. The best advice is to find something that you love – something you will want to be studying 20 years from now. If you really love it, you can never go wrong.

Submitted by Emily Montemerlo on March 10, 2022