David R. Byrd, MD
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
University of Washington School of Medicine
When I enter the consultation room, I am 100 percent focused on you.”
Why do you practice oncology?
Life throws us all curveballs; it’s not a question of whether you will get them, it’s when. Fueled by a love of anatomy, I learned early on that I wanted to support people whose lives had been knocked off course by cancer. This desire only grew stronger when I traveled to India and Pakistan after my general surgery residency to do volunteer medical work. My experiences as a surgical oncologist have taught me that it’s the quality of our time in this world that counts, and the time I have spent treating patients with cancer — learning about their lives and helping them overcome health obstacles — has been tremendously rewarding.
Specialties and clinical expertise
The branch of medicine a provider practices and their areas of focus
As the director of surgery at SCCA, I have a diverse interest in the management of several different solid tumors. Breast cancer is one of my areas of expertise. I was the first surgeon to bring the sentinel lymph node biopsy to the Pacific Northwest; this technique improved the management of breast cancer, and other cancers, by more accurately determining whether the disease has spread to the lymphatic system, eliminating the need for more invasive surgery. I have also published articles on topics including node-positive breast cancer, tumor detection and complications of breast cancer treatment such as lymphedema.
I provide comprehensive surgical care for melanoma and other skin cancers through SCCA’s Skin Oncology Clinic. Outside of patient care, I have led the development of staging systems for malignant melanoma, as well as other cancers, and I actively conduct research to improve the standard of care. For example, I co-led a study demonstrating that removing key sentinel lymph nodes from most patients with early-stage melanoma led to the same long-term survival rates as fully removing additional lymph nodes. Sentinel lymph node removal is associated with improved health outcomes and fewer complications.
How do you help patients?
Regardless of your diagnosis, I want to make sure you walk out of the clinic feeling better than when you walked in. I am always forthright, but I never take away hope. One of the things I value about SCCA is how patient-centered it is, and my approach mirrors the belief that what you care about and what you need always takes center stage. I see my role as bringing in the evidence — what we know about treatment and prognosis — and mapping that information onto your goals, so we can form a care plan that reflects your unique preferences.