PNA Spotlight: Dr. Simon Hanft

Dr. Simon HanftThis month the PNA Spotlight shines on Simon Hanft, MD, the Surgical Director of the Pituitary Tumor Program and Director of Spinal Oncology at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. He also serves as an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Hanft did his undergraduate work at Yale, pursued a Masters from the University of Cambridge in England, and a medical degree from Stanford University. He did his residency at Columbia University with a focus on brain and spine tumors, then moved on to a fellowship in surgical neuro-oncology at the University of Miami. Dr. Hanft answered a few questions from the PNA. His answers are below:

What inspired you to choose your career path?

A combination of factors. I think if you’re interested in science in high school and college, you start paying attention to the idea of becoming a doctor. And in medical school, I felt that I wanted to be in a field that had options. Multiple possible career paths within a given specialty. I also liked the idea of a field that was constantly innovating and adapting to the times. Neurosurgery was a good fit. During neurosurgery residency, the mentorship was very strong in the area of brain tumor surgery, which was absolutely the case under Dr. Ricardo Komotar at the University of Miami, where I did a one year fellowship. There was considerable focus on pituitary tumor surgery which we did exclusively with endoscopic approaches. This represented a significant departure from some of the more traditional techniques and helped to develop my understanding for and appreciation of pituitary tumors and their unique anatomy.

What is the primary focus of your work/research?

Currently I focus on brain tumor surgery in general with a subspecialty focus on pituitary tumors. At the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), we have a multidisciplinary program for managing these tumors, including a colleague of mine from ENT, as well as the endocrinologists and radiation oncologists. This allows us to not only treat these tumors surgically, but to consider radiation in select cases as well. And of course the management of these tumors in the postoperative patient can be challenging, so the endocrinologists play a huge role in that process.

What do you consider to be the future of your field?

I expect multiple advances, mainly in the way we visualize these tumors both preoperatively and intraoperatively. I believe that MRI imaging will be supplemented by new modalities that help to better characterize these tumors. And even more so, as the endoscope has done with pituitary tumors already, I foresee even greater advances with intraoperative identification and removal of these tumors. 3-D technology has obviously taken off in this field, and this to me seems like the tip of the iceberg.

What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?

I think patients should be aware of the relative safety with which we approach these tumors and the increasing success that we have in removing them. There is understandably a lot of anxiety regarding these operations, and of course to a degree this is appropriate, but the technology has allowed us to be more and more effective when it comes to removing these tumors safely and leaving the patients better off than when they first presented.

What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?

More than anything, patients should know that I take a reasoned approach to these tumors and that I do my best to consider all the options. Surgeons understandably have a tendency towards operating, that’s obviously why we went into this field and how we’ve been conditioned. But sometimes other approaches, such as watchful waiting and other non-operative methods are appropriate. I try to be as honest with my patients as possible about my thought process and expectations when it comes to these tumors and my ultimate recommendations.

Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?

I feel this is a great forum for communicating among other surgeons in this specialty and patients who are searching for more information about their condition. These can be complicated, life-changing tumors and a forum that consistently addresses these issues is very welcome. I’m proud to be a part of the organization and look forward to becoming even more involved.

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