In recognition of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Massachusetts General Hospital physicians answer common questions related to lung cancer.
Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, MD, is a thoracic surgeon in the Massachusetts General Hospital Division of Thoracic Surgery and faculty at Harvard Medical School. He received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Harvard University. After completing a Fulbright Fellowship and a Howard Hughes Medical Research Fellowship, he received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He completed his general surgery residency at Duke University Medical Center and cardiothoracic surgery fellowship at Stanford Hospital.
In his work, Dr. Yang treats conditions associated with various chest structures such as the lung, esophagus, mediastinum and chest wall. The most common diseases he treats include lung and esophageal cancer, thymoma, sarcoma, mesothelioma, pulmonary and respiratory diseases and benign esophageal disease.
Dr. Yang has been recognized for exceptional accomplishments in both the clinical care of patients and in the teaching of medical students. He served as lead investigator on several high impact studies of lung cancer published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Annals of Surgery and Chest. He has written over 80 publications, including over 50 as first- or co-first author. Dr. Yang is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ Online Curriculum.
Q. What brought you to Mass General?
Mass General has an incredible multidisciplinary team that genuinely cares about delivering the highest quality patient care. Our division is led by Yolonda Colson, MD, PhD and, when considering Mass General, I was immediately impressed by her vision and leadership. The opportunity to be a member of, and to participate in, such a clinically talented and compassionate community is a real privilege. I am delighted to continue Mass General’s commitments to taking care of patients and their families; educating medical students, residents and fellows; and its strong focus on supporting innovative research that advances the surgical field.
Q. What innovations do you see on the horizon in your field?
The recent advances and innovation in our field make this an exciting time to be a thoracic surgeon. At Mass General, more operations now can be conducted with minimally invasive surgical techniques. These techniques have been both shown to be safer and help patients recover faster.
Early-stage lung cancer can also be potentially cured by surgery. With the help of our colleagues in imaging, primary care, pulmonology, medical oncology and radiation oncology, we are trying to identify and detect lung cancer even earlier. We are developing and performing innovative clinical trials that evaluate new kinds of treatment with targeted therapies and immunotherapy.
As for the focus of my own current research, my team uses machine learning analysis of biometric data collected from wearable technology (i.e., fitness trackers) to try to improve postoperative recovery and reduce the risk of future operations. We are also working to improve the visualization process in surgery by developing a mixed-reality platform prototype to improve our operative planning.
Q. What is one thing you want your patients to know about your specialty and care philosophy?
I try my absolute best to care for each patient as though that patient is a member of my own family. My grandfather, whom I was very close to, passed away from lung cancer when I was in college. I helped take care of him, and I know how important it is for a patient’s surgeon to always be accessible and supportive for the patient and the patient’s family. I give all my patients my personal cell phone number so that they can reach me at any time with questions. I really believe in a patient- and family-centered care approach in my practice.
My colleagues and I employ the highest level of technological expertise in treating our patients. To minimize patients’ discomfort and the length of their hospital stay, I try to use minimally invasive techniques whenever possible such as video-assisted thoracic surgery and robotically-assisted thoracic surgery.
Our multidisciplinary team comprises experts across a wide range of specialties. We meet frequently to discuss problems and identify the best possible treatment strategies for each patient.
Q. What do you like most about your work?
I love being there for patients and their families—it is such an honor and a privilege. As thoracic surgeons, we often develop wonderful long-term relationships with our patients, which are deeply meaningful to me.
I really appreciate the problem-solving and technical aspects of thoracic surgery and the opportunity to help people with challenging problems by providing a surgical solution. I also love working with residents and students and teaching them about thoracic surgery.
Lastly, research and discovery are also incredibly important for me. Being at Mass General is wonderful because of the opportunity to collaborate with so many leading physicians, scientists and engineers.
Q. Are there particular milestones that stand out in your career that you would like to note?
In 2018, I started a nonprofit organization called the American Lung Cancer Screening Initiative. I am extremely proud of our team; we have worked with communities across 38 states to spread awareness about the importance of lung cancer screening. Most recently, we worked with Congress to draft resolutions supporting lung cancer and lung cancer screening awareness that were introduced in the House (H.R. 1192) and Senate (S.Res. 780). These are the first resolutions of their kind for lung cancer screening. S. Res. 780 was passed in the Senate in December 2020 by unanimous consent.
I really enjoy teaching and conducting research with students and residents. Several of my mentees are now first-authors and lead investigators of their own studies that have been published in high-impact journals, like Annals of Surgery and Chest. It has been very rewarding to watch my mentees grow and to be part of their journey on their way to becoming leaders in medicine.
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