Barbara Burtness, MD, is a Yale Medicine medical oncologist who sees patients at Yale Cancer Center. She has made it her life’s mission to help people diagnosed with head and neck cancer, which can be a devastating disease even after it is cured—it can impact a person’s appearance, as well as the ability to speak, swallow, and eat.
“Patients often encounter unpleasant outcomes that can include difficulty swallowing solid foods, impaired nutrition, aspiration, and feeding tube dependence,” says Dr. Burtness. “Younger patients may have to deal with these side effects for decades after cancer treatment.”
A careful treatment approach can help prevent these problems. She and her team evaluate the tumor location and decide which primary treatment (surgery or radiation therapy) will best cure the cancer and cause the fewest possible negative outcomes.
A professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Burtness’ research lab is actively studying new cures for head and neck cancers. “We want to help improve these patients’ quality of life,” she says.