Specialty: Radiation Oncology
Title: Chief of Radiation Oncology
Hospital: Northern Westchester Hospital
A typical workday for Dr. Alfred Tinger, Northern Westchester Hospital’s Chief of Radiation Oncology, includes providing radiation-oncology care for 25 to 30 patients while interacting with the medical oncologists, urologists, neurosurgeons, and other specialists to coordinate his patients’ cancer care. It can be emotionally grueling work, but Tinger, who was drawn to the field when he lost a close friend to cancer while still in college, says radiation oncology is his calling. “Every patient is meaningful to me,” he explains. “Each person and cancer is a unique challenge. Helping patients adjust to the diagnosis and get to a cure, or helping relieve them from suffering and help them pass on as comfortably as possible, is very humbling and rewarding work.”
How do you cope with the emotional strain of caring for critically and terminally ill patients daily?
Oncologists are often tasked with giving our patients tough news, and sometimes they or their families can get very upset. I don’t take it personally. I’m very spiritual, which helps me connect with patients. When one of my patients asks me a question, no matter how hard it may be, I answer it as honestly, sympathetically, and as empathetically as possible.
How have recent advancements in stereotactic radiation changed the playing field for your patients?
The ability to do stereotactic radiation [high doses of radiation to certain parts of the body] is one of the exciting recent innovations. We have been doing stereotactic radiation to the lung for about eight years, and to the brain for 12 years, but now we can apply stereotactic treatments to the pancreas, prostate, liver, spine, and anywhere in the body that might need it. It’s more effective at treating tumors and associated with fewer side effects than previous treatments.
How has the field of radiation oncology changed over the course of your career?
The field is constantly changing, and we are continuously learning new techniques and information to keep up. For example, right out of training, I had to learn to do prostate seed implant brachytherapy. Then, we had to learn stereotactic radiosurgery, intraoperative radiation therapy, and image-guided radiation therapy. There is always something new.
What is your advice on how best to survive a cancer diagnosis?
When you first meet your physician, listen, ask good questions, and trust your gut feelings. If there is any uncertainty, get a second opinion. Once you’ve settled on a doctor, it’s important to have faith in your physician. In Westchester there is very good care.
How are we doing in the fight against cancer in Westchester?
National statistics say patients with cancer are living longer — that there are more cancer survivors than ever before. Our practice mirrors these results, showing improved patient survival because of early detection and better treatments. We have a very robust Survivorship Program here at the hospital, which includes an annual celebration for all our survivors.