A proven cancer fighter; Spitzer named to Mass. Generals' 'one hundred' club for life-saving advancements

Courtesy photoDr. Thomas Spitzer of Andover is credited with saving many lives through his groundbreaking work in cancer research and treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston

In the fight against cancer, the disease has certainly met its match in Dr. Thomas Spitzer. The Andover doctor has spent his career offering hope to cancer patients.

As the director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the 66-year-old Spitzer has worked to change the way blood cancers are treated globally.

Spitzer has been named to Mass General’s “the one hundred” class for 2015. The award annually salutes 100 “everyday amazing” individuals, groups and organizations around the country and worldwide for changing the way cancer is fought in innovative ways and inspiring others to take action. He was chosen from nearly 900 nominees. 

He said he was “pleasantly surprised” when he learned he was among this year’s honorees. He said he knows others within his program who have been selected over the years and he feels fortunate to be in the same company.

“It’s a great honor, because ‘the one hundred’ event recognizes people and organizations that have contributed to the mission of the cancer center,” Spitzer said. “We don’t know who nominated us — but patients, staff and other people in the community are able to nominate someone. I feel privileged to have been chosen.”

Spitzer’s efforts are said to work in line with the cancer center’s “commitment to eradicating cancer through research and innovation and by providing the highest quality of patient care,” according to a release from the hospital.

Spitzer has spent the majority of his 30-year career at Massachusetts General. In 2002, he established the Bone Marrow Transplant program at the Mass. General Cancer Center, one of the most distinguished centers for stem cell transplantation in the world.

Under his leadership, the program has introduced numerous state-of-the-art techniques that allow for lower-dose chemotherapy and permit transplantation in older patients who are fighting blood cancers through less-taxing procedures.

In a breakthrough benefiting patients with multiple myeloma and kidney failure, Spitzer and his team performed the first simultaneous bone marrow and kidney transplants. This double procedure treats the disease and increases the body’s acceptance of the kidney without the use of immunosuppressive drugs.

Spitzer said he’s motivated every day by the opportunity to create change. 

“The opportunity to offer curing therapies for these diseases at the beginning of my career wasn’t a remote possibility,” he said. “So to see the opportunity to offer novel treatments and see these people survive has been gratifying.

Spitzer, who has also been a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, can see the good in his work in the patients he has treated for leukemia and other life-threatening blood disorders for more than 20 years. 

“Dr. Spitzer and his team have saved my life several times over — first, with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and then with two forms of bone marrow transplants,” Michael Karlson, who has successfully battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for more than 10 years, writes in praising Spitzer on receiving the award.

“Throughout the difficult treatments, Dr. Spitzer has marshaled hospital resources and provided warm and comforting professional care.”

A native of Canton, Ohio, Spitzer moved to Andover 22 years ago from the Washington, D.C., area. His wife, Joan, is a nurse and they have two children, both of whom graduated from Andover High School, and two grandchildren.

Their son, Matthew Spitzer, is an attorney at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C., and their daughter, Linn Spitzer, works as a counselor at a residential facility in Burlington, Vt.

In his free time, Spitzer is a member at Indian Ridge Country Club in Andover. His wife volunteers at The Center at Punchard.

Spitzer and the other honorees will be feted at the eighth annual “the one hundred” gala on Tuesday, May 26, at the Westin Copley Place Boston Hotel. Tickets are $500 and proceeds support the work of Mass General Cancer Center. Since 2008, the awareness and fundraising initiative has raised more than $7 million for the cause.

Those funds have allowed Spitzer to continue his innovative work in the field.

“It’s very much a roller coaster in terms of ups and downs, successes and situations that aren’t so successful,” he said. “But I’m motivated by the opportunity to offer these treatments.”

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