David G. Pfister, MD

Medical Oncologist

Chief, Head and Neck Oncology Service; Associate Deputy Physician-in-Chief, Strategic Partnerships

Conditions Treated

Pictured: David Pfister
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About Me

I am a medical oncologist with more than 20 years of experience in treating patients with a broad spectrum of head and neck malignancies including tumors of the mouth, throat, thyroid, salivary glands, and skin. For these years of service, I was honored to receive Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Willet F. Whitmore Award for Clinical Excellence in 2011.

As Chief of the Head and Neck Oncology Service and Co-Leader of our multidisciplinary disease management team, I work closely with an esteemed and highly coordinated group of medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to provide our patients with the very best care possible.

Collaborative, multidisciplinary care is especially important for cancers of the head and neck because, generally speaking, treatment not only involves a potentially deadly disease but also issues related to physical appearance, function, and quality of life. An approach that I pioneered with Memorial Sloan Kettering colleagues — known as combined modality organ preservation therapy — uses a combination of chemotherapy and radiation to avoid certain surgical procedures feared by patients such as removal of the voice box, with the intent of  preserving function and cosmetic appearance without compromising survival.

My current research is focused on evaluating new forms of chemotherapy called targeted therapies, which selectively kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. I am also developing customized combined modality therapies based on prognostic risk, and assessing healthcare outcomes.

I have published extensively, previously serving as an associate editor for Clinical Cancer Research and on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, and have been principal investigator on multiple studies.

In addition to being a member of the board of directors for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, I chair the organization’s head and neck cancer practice guidelines panel. I am also on the board of directors for the International Thyroid Oncology Group, and am co-chair of the Head and Neck Cancer Recurrent/Metastatic Disease Task Force at the National Cancer Institute. Here at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I chair the Committee on Metrics of Care Quality and Outcome.

  • Clinical Expertise: Head and Neck Cancers (Larynx/Upper Aerodigestive, Thyroid, Salivary Gland, Skin); Lung Cancer; Genitourinary Malignancies; Larynx/Organ-Preserving Therapies; Immunotherapy; Outcomes Research
  • Awards and Honors: Castle Connolly: New York Magazine Top Doctors (2005-2008; 2010-2018)
  • Languages Spoken: English
  • Education: MD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
  • Residencies: Internal Medicine - Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Fellowships: Clinical Epidemiology/Internal Medicine - Yale-New Haven Hospital/Yale University School of Medicine; Medical Oncology and Hematology - Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Medicine - Weill Cornell Medical College
  • Board Certifications: Internal Medicine; Medical Oncology

See My Colleagues


Visit PubMed for a full listing of David G. Pfister’s journal articles

Pubmed is an online index of biomedical articles maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.

Clinical Trials

Research is integral to our mission at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and clinical trials help us discover better forms of patient care and treatment. For you, this could mean access to a new therapy or therapy combination. Click to see a list of the trials I’m currently leading.


Most major health insurers offer plans that include MSK as one of their in-network providers. If MSK is in-network, it means all our doctors are too. Medicare and New York State Medicaid also provide benefits for care at MSK.

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