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Valerie Rusch, M.D.

Dr. Valerie Rusch is a thoracic surgeon at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She specializes in treating and diagnosing patients with thoracic cancers, including lung, trachea, bronchi, esophageal and pleural cancers. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is one of her areas of expertise, both in treating patients and in research. Dr. Rusch has spent more than 25 years working as a thoracic surgeon and was one of the first women board certified in this surgical specialty. She is currently the Miner Family Chair in Intrathoracic Cancers and the Vice Chair for Clinical Research in the department of surgery.

Education and Early Career

Dr. Rusch earned her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Vassar College in 1971 and also attended the Lycee Francais in New York. She then went on to earn her medical degree in 1975 from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She completed her residency in general surgery at the University of Washington between 1975 and 1980 and her residency in cardiothoracic surgery, also at the University of Washington from 1980 to 1982. She also completed training in thoracic oncology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Her first position was at the University of Washington where she was a member of the faculty for six years, until 1989. At that time she left Washington for a position at Memorial Sloan Kettering, a world-renowned cancer research and treatment center in New York.

Current Positions

Dr. Rusch has remained working at Memorial Sloan Kettering since she arrived there in 1989 and is now the Vice Chair for Clinical Research in the Department of Surgery and the Miner Family Chair in Intrathoracic Cancers. In her roles here she leads and conducts research and meets with patients for diagnosis and treatment, especially those with pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other cancers of the airways, chest wall, mediastinum, and esophagus.

In her work with mesothelioma and other cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Rusch and her colleagues rely on a multi-disciplinary approach for diagnosis and treatment. Dr. Rusch also believes in a hands-on and personal approach to care, getting to know each patient. She and her colleagues use minimally-invasive surgical procedures whenever possible to ensure greatest patient comfort and fastest recovery times.

Important Mesothelioma Treatment Research

Dr. Rusch has contributed significantly to the understanding of mesothelioma and the ability to treat it through her research. One of her most important studies was published in 2001 and was instrumental in proving how much more successful bimodal treatment was for mesothelioma patients as compared to simply having surgery to remove tumors. In the study, led by Dr. Rusch, the purpose was to try to reduce recurrences of cancer in patients treated surgically.

The patients in the study underwent a radical surgery—either a pleurectomy with decortication or an extrapleural pneumonectomy—the most extensive of all mesothelioma surgical procedures. The patients then received post-surgery radiation therapy. The findings from the study proved that the combination of treatments was far more effective than just using surgery to treat patients. The median survival time of the patients was improved and the recurrence rate was significantly reduced. Memorial Sloan Kettering performs more than 3,000 thoracic surgeries every year, and Dr. Rusch performs over 350 of those.

Other Areas of Research

In addition to her important contributions to the multimodal treatment of pleural mesothelioma, Dr. Rusch has led, conducted, and contributed to a number of other important research projects, clinical trials, and publications. One of her areas of interest in research is the early detection of cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Mesothelioma is particularly difficult to diagnose, so research into early screening methods is crucial for distinguishing it from lung cancer. She also works on genetic research, investigating the genetic components of lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Organizations, Leadership, and Honors

In addition to her roles at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Dr. Rusch is also involved in a number of professional organizations, serving in leadership roles. She is the Chair of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, the Chair of the American Joint Commission on Cancer’s Lung and Esophagus Task Force, and the Chair of the Mesothelioma Subcommittee of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer. She is also a Regent for the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Rusch is internationally known as an expert in thoracic surgery and oncology, but particularly for treatment and diagnosis of mesothelioma as well as research into this terrible cancer. Patients who have the good fortune to work with Dr. Rusch will find a compassionate, knowledgeable and expert doctor who believes in excellent patient care and doing everything possible to improve quality of life and comfort.

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