PNA Spotlight: Dr. Christopher Cifarelli
This month the PNA Spotlight focuses on Dr. Christopher Cifarelli, Director of the Gamma Knife Radiosurgery program at West Virginia University’s School of Medicine. He is also an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery and a member of the Cancer Institute Research Programs at WVU. Dr. Cifarelli earned his B.A. and M.S. from Rutgers University and then his MD and PhD from Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Cifarelli was kind enough to answer some questions from the PNA; his answers are below.
• What inspired you to choose your career path?
Early experiences with family illnesses gave me my first exposure to medicine, followed by clinical work as a radiology transporter and darkroom technician during high school. Throughout college and graduate school, my interests included neural development, which led to my discovery of neurosurgery. I had the pleasure of learning the art of surgery from pioneers in the field and continue to carry their message through my own practice.
• What is the primary focus of your work/research?
My primary practice focus is on tumors of the brain, including pituitary adenomas. As faculty member in the Department of Neurosurgery at West Virginia University and Director of the WVU Gamma Knife Radiosurgery program, I’ve had the opportunity to build a multidisciplinary team of practitioners to deal with tumors of the sellar and parasellar regions. In addition to my clinical practice, I run an NIH-funded laboratory that studies the mechanisms by which radiation kills tumor cells. By identifying new ways of increasing the effectiveness of radiation, we hope to increase survival and quality of life in our patients.
• What do you consider to be the future of your field?
All aspects of medicine have been striving to decrease invasiveness of procedures while increasing their effectiveness. The field of pituitary tumor management has been an early beneficiary of advances in visualization, including the endoscope. Advances in radiosurgery applications have also allowed us to provide durable treatments for new and recurrent tumors while avoiding the risks of additional surgery. Perhaps that greatest advance in medical management of tumors has come from immune-based therapies, often employed in malignancies such as melanoma and lung cancer. Although not currently used in the setting of pituitary or parasellar lesions, it is possible that these advances will be of benefit to patients with pituitary tumors in the future.
• What should patients know about your field/what deserves more recognition/awareness?
Treatment of any tumor in the central nervous system requires a team-based approach. Surgeries are often multi-disciplinary, with neurosurgeons and otolaryngologists working together to address lesions of the anterior skull base, while the endocrinologists serve the critical need of managing safe endocrine function pre- and post-operatively. Similarly, neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists provide the radiosurgical care needed to deal with challenging lesions where surgery just is not safe.
• What would you like to convey about yourself to your patients?
Any diagnosis of a tumor is troublesome for patients and their families. As a neurosurgeon, I make it my primary goal to ensure that all of their questions are answered to their satisfaction. The patient directs how their care proceeds, be it with surgery, radiation, or medical management, and I want to guarantee them all the information needed to make the decisions that are best for them.
• Why did you get involved with the PNA and what is the extent of your involvement?
In starting my first practice after training, I found that there were few patient-oriented resources to educate patients and families about pituitary tumors. PNA stood out as a well-defined, knowledgeable resource where I could reliably send my patients for support.