Dale Han, MD, is a surgical oncologist who cares for people with melanoma and soft tissue tumors. He chose surgical oncology, in part, because he was interested in collaborating with other specialists, but most importantly, he wanted to have deep, long-lasting connections with the people he treated. “Patients who are referred to a surgical oncologist typically have the best chance for a potential cure after treatment,” Dr. Han says. “It is enormously rewarding to see patients who are disease-free 12 months or more after surgery, and going back to their normal lives.”
An assistant professor of surgery (surgical oncology) at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Han has a front-row seat for what he describes as “an explosion in the treatment of melanoma.” Twenty years ago, care often involved some combination of surgery, radiation and limited chemotherapies, but now there are new effective options. One of the biggest breakthroughs is immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy, in which “we essentially use the body's immune system to attack the cancer cells,” Dr. Han says. Another is “targeted therapy,” which looks for the mutations within tumors that drive the cancer and uses drugs that work against those mutations.
New therapies are making the teamwork among surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists even more important in cancer care. “I find the teamwork mentality to be extraordinary. It helps drive the ultimate goal, which is to maximize our use of therapies, minimize the risks, and provide the best quality of life, which gives our patients the most benefit,” he says.