Donald S. Kaufman, longtime oncologist at Mass General

Dr. Kaufman said: “Prostate cancer is truly unique in that many, many patients who have it don’t have to do anything about it, ever.”
Dr. Kaufman said: “Prostate cancer is truly unique in that many, many patients who have it don’t have to do anything about it, ever.”Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/file 2009/Globe Staff

After a long day researching treatments for bladder and prostate cancer, work for Dr. Donald S. Kaufman was far from over. He often stayed up late at home with his children to edit their school papers or simply to keep them company as they wrote into the night.

Next to medicine, education was a top priority — not only for his children, but for his patients as well. Though he spent much of his professional career treating cancer, Dr. Kaufman was also an avid advocate for PSA screening tests for prostate cancer.

“My point to men is that you should get a PSA, which should be part of your examination annually if you are over 50,” he told the Globe in 2009. “And if the PSA is positive, you should have a biopsy. The world should stop at that point and a decision should be made about what should be done next.”

Dr. Kaufman, an oncologist and physician at Massachusetts General Hospital for more than 40 years, died at his Newton home on May 27 due to residual complications from surgery that was performed in 2013. He was 82 and had lived in Newton for 52 years.


He spent most of his career at Mass. General, where he started as an assistant physician, and over the course of four decades held a wide variety of leadership roles, including as director of the inpatient oncology unit and director of the Genitourinary Oncology Disease Center, which later was renamed the Claire and John Bertucci Center for Genitourinary Cancers.

In 2008, Dr. Kaufman was honored as a caregiver through The One Hundred, a fund-raising and awareness initiative in the cancer treatment community.

His work revolved around multidisciplinary patient care, with a focus on finding well-rounded and innovative approaches to help treat patients who had been diagnosed with cancer, said Dr. Chin-Lee Wu, a pathologist at MGH who had worked with Dr. Kaufman since 1995.


In a letter to patients in 2013, Dr. Kaufman said he was stepping back from direct patient care, and he singled out the multidisciplinary approach as a significant accomplishment.

“As I think about my various professional interests over the years, nothing makes me prouder than the multidisciplinary unit on Yawkey-7 that I, with the tireless support of others, worked to make a reality,” he wrote. “Patient care has always been the cornerstone of my professional life, and Yawkey-7 was built with the patient in mind.”

Wu and Dr. Kaufman worked together on an MGH/China fellowship exchange program, which included annual trips to China to lecture at hospitals, and also brought Chinese physicians to MGH for several months at a time.

Dr. Kaufman’s global approach and detail-oriented work ethic was evident in everything he did, said Wu, who added that his friend was an inspirational role model for colleagues.

Wu recalled learning early on that when structuring a report about one of Dr. Kaufman’s patients, if he missed anything or “was just a little lazy, if I didn’t go the extra step to find a little bit of detail, he would read that report and e-mail me or call me and ask me for the things I didn’t go the extra step to find.”

The younger of two sons, Dr. Kaufman was born in Worcester to Isadore Kaufman and the former Edith Grossman. His family moved to Dorchester a year later, and Dr. Kaufman attended schools in Boston, graduating from Boston Latin School in 1952.


He attended Harvard College and the Boston University School of Medicine, from which he graduated in 1960.

After medical school he was an intern and resident in New York City at Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, which later was renamed the Jacobi Medical Center. Moving back to Boston after his residency, he started working at what is now Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

It wasn’t until 1967, when Dr. Kaufman was drafted during the Vietnam War and stationed at Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco, that he discovered his passion for oncology. Over the course of two years, he rose to become chief oncologist at the hospital.

He returned to Beth Israel in 1969 and continued working in oncology, directing the clinical oncology service before moving to Mass. General.

At both hospitals, Dr. Kaufman was often incredibly invested in his patients’ lives, said his wife, Suzanne. “Many of his patients became his friends,” she said. “He would save their life, and they would live 30 years later, [and] we would go out to dinner with them.”

A positive result on a prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA, can be frightening for patients, Dr. Kaufman knew, but in some instances he could offer reassurance.

“It’s very difficult, because cancer is a killer of people,” he told the Globe in 2009, but he added that “prostate cancer is truly unique in that many, many patients who have it don’t have to do anything about it, ever. . . . We have followed patients for as long as 12 years, and they haven’t required treatment. It’s very exciting for patients to walk out and say, ‘I thought I needed treatment and I don’t.’ That’s the earth lifting off your shoulders.”


Such an approach, he cautioned, can almost never be taken with other kinds of cancer. “That’s what makes prostate cancer unique,” he said in the interview. “Nobody says, ‘You have lung cancer; we’re going to watch it.’ Only 3 percent of patients diagnosed with prostate cancer die of prostate cancer. I like to not treat people if they don’t need treatment.”

Dr. Kaufman was a clinical professor for many years at Harvard Medical School, and through his research was an author of more than 100 journal publications.

He met Suzanne Jasper in 1957 and they married a year later, while each was still in school. They had three children, whom they raised mostly in Newton, except for the two years they lived in San Francisco.

She recalled that together, they enjoyed traveling and exploring the city, attending theater performances and going to museums while forging a harmonious marriage. “We rarely had a disagreement,” she said.

A service has been held for Dr. Kaufman, who in addition to his wife leaves two daughters, Debbie Kaufman Goldfine and Miriam Bavly, both of Newton; a son, David, of Rochester, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.


As he did with his children, Dr. Kaufman took an active role in his grandchildren’s lives, reading their school papers, attending their college advisory meetings, and attending their sports contests and musical performances.

Kaufman Goldfine’s 20-year-old daughter, Isabel, wrote in her eulogy that she remembers her grandfather crying tears of happiness on the phone the day she was accepted at Harvard.

“You always knew he was in your corner,” Kaufman Goldfine said. “These grandchildren knew who he was. It wasn’t just someone that would bounce them on his knees. There was nothing that they couldn’t talk to him about.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com.