Contact, publication, and social network information about Harvard faculty and fellows. Harvard Catalyst Profiles
Harvard Catalyst offices will be closed for winter recess December 22 - January 1.
Last Name

profileMichael W. Retsky, Ph.D.

TitleResearch Associate
InstitutionHarvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
DepartmentEH - Molecular+Integrative Phys Sci Prog
AddressHarvard School of Public Health
665 Huntington Ave
Boston MA 02115
vCardDownload vCard (login for email)
Profile Picture

Collapse Overview 
Collapse overview
Michael Retsky’s formal education is in experimental physics. He has PhD in physics from University of Chicago that was awarded in 1974. His thesis project was to build a 100 kV scanning transmission electron microscope that could resolve single atoms and use the device to measure elastic cross-sections of individual silver, mercury and uranium atoms. His main contribution to microscope technology was to build power supplies for the high voltage and lens current that were stable to 1 part per million per hour, ten-fold better than anything else in the world.
M Retsky and J Wall. One ampere current supply stable to one part per million per hour. Review of Scientific Instruments 43:384, 1972.
M Retsky, Observed single atom elastic cross sections in a scanning electron microscope. Optik 41(2):127-124, 1974.

While working at Hewlett-Packard in Colorado Springs in early 1980s, what began as an informal side project to help a friend whose wife was diagnosed with gastric lymphoma, he gradually made a career change over a 5 year period into cancer research. Retsky compliments H-P for allowing him to do cancer research and use their computers over the weekend as long as he got his work done. He left HP and became Prof of Biology at University of Colorado – Colorado Springs and visiting Prof at University of Texas – San Antonio. His first publication (Speer et al Cancer Research 1984) predicted cancer growth was intermittent with periods of temporary dormancy. Computer simulation of published clinical data was the basis for this finding. This was revolutionary since if true it would predict adjuvant chemotherapy after removal of a primary tumor should be administered as an intermittent protocol rather than maximum tolerated therapy for six or so months after surgery as widely practiced.

As an ironic test of his confidence in the computer simulation, in 1994 Retsky was diagnosed with stage IIIc colon cancer. Surgery was routine anastomosis and recovery was uneventful. As might be expected, he decided against conventional adjuvant chemotherapy and instead chose a low dose, long term therapy using the mainstay colon cancer drug 5-fluoruracil. The drug was administered 5 hours each night using an infusion pump. This therapy was designed by William Hrushesky, MD. It had been used in late stage disease but had never been used as adjuvant chemotherapy. Retsky was on Judah Folkman’s staff at Harvard Medical School in 1996 or 1997 when he had been on the low dose - long term therapy for about 2 years. He asked Judah Folkman if this type of therapy had been tested as an anti-angiogenic. Folkman brought lab researcher Tim Browder into the room and it was determined that 5-FU had been tested but only as bolus, not low dose & long term. Retsky told them that 5-FU has half life of 20 minutes in the body if given as bolus and would be hard to imagine how it could be antiangiogenic if given that way. Browder eventually tested it in mice and to great surprise found it was antiangiogenic if administered continually at low dose for extended times. After much difficulty since the finding was unexpected, this was published as Browder et al, Cancer Research 2000. As of Nov 2017 this paper has been cited over 1100 times.

The therapy was termed metronomic chemotherapy by D. Hanahan who was well known at the Folkman lab. Folkman and Browder are now deceased and Retsky (the cancer patient) is the only one left alive to tell this story. Based on calculations Retsky stayed on the therapy for a total of 2.5 years.

Retsky M, Metronomic Chemotherapy was Originally Designed and first used in 1994 for Early Stage Cancer - why is it Taking so Long to Proceed? Journal of Bioequivalence and Bioavailability, May 2011,

MW Retsky; How long should adjuvant chemotherapy be given in early stage colon cancer? Clinical and Experimental Pathology. 3:1 2013.
Open Access Journals | OMICS International
An Open Access Publisher & Scientific Events Organizer and other Open Access Resources
Retsky was very active as a patient-advocate. He is a founder of the Colon Cancer Alliance and was on the board of Directors for over 10 years. Retsky is now on honorary faculty at University College London.

His recent research is shown in this following abstract that was presented in London in June 2017:
A bimodal pattern of hazard of relapse among early stage breast cancer patients has been identified in multiple databases from US, Europe and Asia. We are studying these data to determine if this can lead to new ideas on how to prevent relapse in breast cancer. Using computer simulation and access to a very high quality database from Milan for patients treated with mastectomy only, we proposed that relapses within 3 years of surgery are stimulated somehow by the surgical procedure. Most relapses in breast cancer are in this early category. Retrospective data from a Brussels anesthesiology group (Forget et al, Aneth Analg 2010) suggested a plausible mechanism. Use of ketorolac, a common NSAID analgesic used in surgery was associated with far superior disease-free survival in the first 5 years after surgery. The expected prominent early relapse events in months 9-18 are reduced 5-fold. Transient systemic inflammation accompanying surgery (identified by IL-6 in serum) could facilitate angiogenesis of dormant micrometastases, proliferation of dormant single cells, and seeding of circulating cancer stem cells (perhaps in part released from bone marrow) resulting in early relapse and could have been effectively blocked by the perioperative anti-inflammatory agent. If this observation holds up to further scrutiny, it could mean that the simple use of this safe, inexpensive and effective anti-inflammatory agent at surgery might eliminate early relapses. We suggest this would be most effective for triple negative breast cancer and be especially valuable in low and middle income countries. Similar bimodal patterns have been identified in other cancers suggesting a general effect.

This research has been published a number of times and most recently issued in a book published July 2017 by Springer-Nature and edited by Retsky and long term colleague Romano Demicheli. (Perioperative Inflammation as Triggering Origin of Metastasis Development). A review that is online is Retsky et al CMC 2013 A paper (Retsky et al Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 2004 that explains why adjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer is mostly effective for premenopausal node positive patients has been downloaded 24,000 times. Current interest is planning and fund raising to conduct a clinical trial of perioperative NSAID for breast cancer in Nigeria. Retsky has visited Nigeria 3 times in the past 2 years.

Collapse Bibliographic 
Collapse selected publications
Publications listed below are automatically derived from MEDLINE/PubMed and other sources, which might result in incorrect or missing publications. Faculty can login to make corrections and additions.
List All   |   Timeline
  1. Michael W. Retsky and Romano Demicheli,Editors . Perioperative Inflammation as Triggering Origin of Metastasis Development. 2017; 1-236.
  2. Michael W. Retsky and Romano Demicheli. 2017; 19-54.
  3. Retsky M, Demicheli R. Multimodal hazard rate for relapse in breast cancer: quality of data and calibration of computer simulation. Cancers (Basel). 2014 Nov 27; 6(4):2343-55. PMID: 25437254; PMCID: PMC4276970.
  4. Retsky M. An argument for discovery-driven research: from physicist to cancer researcher. Ecancermedicalscience. 2014; 8:ed38. PMID: 25075219; PMCID: PMC4096027.
  5. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ, Forget P, De Kock M, Gukas I, Rogers RA, Baum M, Sukhatme V, Vaidya JS. Reduction of breast cancer relapses with perioperative non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: new findings and a review. Curr Med Chem. 2013; 20(33):4163-76. PMID: 23992307; PMCID: PMC3831877.
  6. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ, Forget P, De Kock M, Gukas I, Rogers RA, Baum M, Pachmann K, Vaidya JS. Promising development from translational or perhaps anti-translational research in breast cancer. Clin Transl Med. 2012 Aug 28; 1(1):17. PMID: 23369485; PMCID: PMC3560986.
  7. Retsky M, Rogers R, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ, Gukas I, Vaidya JS, Baum M, Forget P, Dekock M, Pachmann K. NSAID analgesic ketorolac used perioperatively may suppress early breast cancer relapse: particular relevance to triple negative subgroup. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Jul; 134(2):881-8. PMID: 22622810.
    View in: PubMed
  8. Baum M, Thornton H, Gøtzsche PC, Bewley S, Jørgensen KJ, Barratt A, Ross N, Woloshin S, Schwartz L, Musiello T, Blennerhassett M, Napoli M, Baines CJ, Vaidya JS, Williams N, Havercroft D, Zahl PH, Retsky M, Kaplan RM, Dixon-Woods M, Berry DA, Isaacson K, Brahams D, Pryke M, Tindall G, Bender DA, Marshall T. Breast cancer awareness month. Still awaiting screening facts. BMJ. 2010 Nov 02; 341:c6152. PMID: 21045038.
    View in: PubMed
  9. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W, Baum M, Gukas I. Surgery triggers outgrowth of latent distant disease in breast cancer: an inconvenient truth? Cancers (Basel). 2010 Mar 30; 2(2):305-37. PMID: 24281072; PMCID: PMC3835080.
  10. Retsky, M.; Demicheli, R.; Hrushesky, W.; Baum, M.; Gukas, I. Cancers. Surgery Triggers Outgrowth of Latent Distant Disease in Breast Cancer: An Inconvenient Truth?. 2010; 2:305-337.
  11. Retsky MW. Guest Editor's Concluding Remarks-Advances in Usage of ANN, Discussion of an Unsolved Problem, and Some Differences between Papers Written by Engineers and by Physicians. Sensors (Basel). 2009; 9(10):8126-9. PMID: 22408497; PMCID: PMC3292099.
  12. Retsky M. Comments on John D. Keen and James E. Keen, What is the point: will screening mammography save my life? BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 2009. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2009 Apr 02; 9:20. PMID: 19341450; PMCID: PMC2675517.
  13. Retsky M. New concepts in breast cancer emerge from analyzing clinical data using numerical algorithms. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2009 01; 6(1):329-48. PMID: 19440287; PMCID: PMC2672332.
  14. Retsky, M. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. New Concepts in Breast Cancer Emerge from Analyzing Clinical Data Using Numerical Algorithms. 2009; 6(1):329-348.
  15. Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Gukas ID. Hypothesis: primary antiangiogenic method proposed to treat early stage breast cancer. BMC Cancer. 2009 Jan 08; 9:7. PMID: 19133151; PMCID: PMC2633344.
  16. Demicheli R, Biganzoli E, Boracchi P, Greco M, Retsky MW. Recurrence dynamics does not depend on the recurrence site. Breast Cancer Res. 2008; 10(5):R83. PMID: 18844974; PMCID: PMC2614518.
  17. Retsky MW, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M, Gukas ID. Dormancy and surgery-driven escape from dormancy help explain some clinical features of breast cancer. APMIS. 2008 Jul-Aug; 116(7-8):730-41. PMID: 18834415.
    View in: PubMed
  18. Demicheli R, Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M, Gukas ID. The effects of surgery on tumor growth: a century of investigations. Ann Oncol. 2008 Nov; 19(11):1821-8. PMID: 18550576.
    View in: PubMed
  19. Demicheli R, Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M. Tumor dormancy and surgery-driven interruption of dormancy in breast cancer: learning from failures. Nat Clin Pract Oncol. 2007 Dec; 4(12):699-710. PMID: 18037874.
    View in: PubMed
  20. Demicheli R, Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M, Gukas ID, Jatoi I. Racial disparities in breast cancer outcome: insights into host-tumor interactions. Cancer. 2007 Nov 01; 110(9):1880-8. PMID: 17876835.
    View in: PubMed
  21. Hrushesky WJ, Retsky M, Baum M, Demicheli R. Re: Prognostic value of Ki67 expression after short-term presurgical endocrine therapy for primary breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007 Jul 04; 99(13):1053; author reply 1053-4. PMID: 17596578.
    View in: PubMed
  22. Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ, Retsky MW, Bonadonna G, Valagussa P. Comment to "Effect of primary tumor extirpation in breast cancer patients who present with stage IV disease and intact primary tumor" by G V Babiera, R Rao, L Feng, F Meric-Bernstam, H M Kuerer, S E Singletary, K K Hunt, M I Ross, K M Gwyn, B W Feig, F C Ames, G N Horthobagyi. Ann Surg Oncol 2006;13:776-782. Ann Surg Oncol. 2007 Apr; 14(4):1519-20. PMID: 17225978.
    View in: PubMed
  23. Retsky MW, Demicheli R, Gukas ID, Hrushesky WJ. Enhanced surgery-induced angiogenesis among premenopausal women might partially explain excess breast cancer mortality of blacks compared to whites: an hypothesis. Int J Surg. 2007 Oct; 5(5):300-4. PMID: 17933694.
    View in: PubMed
  24. Demicheli R, Biganzoli E, Boracchi P, Greco M, Hrushesky WJ, Retsky MW. Allometric scaling law questions the traditional mechanical model for axillary lymph node involvement in breast cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2006 Sep 20; 24(27):4391-6. PMID: 16926222.
    View in: PubMed
  25. Demicheli R, Bonadonna G, Greco M, Hrushesky WJ, Moliterni A, Retsky MW, Valagussa P, Zambetti M. Comment to Anderson WF, Jatoi I, Devesa SS: distinct breast cancer incidence and prognostic patterns in the NCI'S SEER program: suggesting a possible link between etiology and outcome. Breast Cancer Res Treat 90:127-137, 2005. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2006 Jun; 97(3):341-3. PMID: 16791490.
    View in: PubMed
  26. Retsky MW, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ. Screening and breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 2006 Feb 16; 354(7):767-9; author reply 767-9. PMID: 16482676.
    View in: PubMed
  27. Retsky MW, Hrushesky W, Baum M. Sociodemographic determinants of cancer treatment health literacy. Cancer. 2006 Feb 01; 106(3):726-7; author reply 727. PMID: 16369990.
    View in: PubMed
  28. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ. Authors respond to controversy surrounding breast cancer study. Int J Surg. 2005; 3(4):235-9. PMID: 17462290.
    View in: PubMed
  29. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky WJ. Does surgery induce angiogenesis in breast cancer? Indirect evidence from relapse pattern and mammography paradox. Int J Surg. 2005; 3(3):179-87. PMID: 17462282.
    View in: PubMed
  30. Demicheli R, Bonadonna G, Valagussa P, Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M. Comment to Jatoi et al. report. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2005 Sep; 93(1):1-2. PMID: 16184452.
    View in: PubMed
  31. Demicheli R, Miceli R, Moliterni A, Zambetti M, Hrushesky WJ, Retsky MW, Valagussa P, Bonadonna G. Breast cancer recurrence dynamics following adjuvant CMF is consistent with tumor dormancy and mastectomy-driven acceleration of the metastatic process. Ann Oncol. 2005 Sep; 16(9):1449-57. PMID: 15956037.
    View in: PubMed
  32. Baum M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W, Retsky M. Does surgery unfavourably perturb the "natural history" of early breast cancer by accelerating the appearance of distant metastases? Eur J Cancer. 2005 Mar; 41(4):508-15. PMID: 15737554.
    View in: PubMed
  33. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W, Speer J, Swartzendruber D, Wardwell R. Recent translational research: computational studies of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2005; 7(1):37-40. PMID: 15642181; PMCID: PMC1064118.
  34. Demicheli R, Bonadonna G, Hrushesky WJ, Retsky MW, Valagussa P. Menopausal status dependence of the timing of breast cancer recurrence after surgical removal of the primary tumour. Breast Cancer Res. 2004; 6(6):R689-96. PMID: 15535851; PMCID: PMC1064084.
  35. Retsky M. Universal law of tumor growth. J Theor Biol. 2004 Aug 07; 229(3):289. PMID: 15234197.
    View in: PubMed
  36. Demicheli R, Bonadonna G, Hrushesky WJ, Moliterni A, Retsky MW, Valagussa P, Zambetti M. The timing of breast cancer recurrence after mastectomy and adjuvant CMF chemotherapy supports a dormancy-based model for metastatic development. J Clin Oncol. 2004 Jul 15; 22(14_suppl):9573. PMID: 28016661.
    View in: PubMed
  37. Retsky M, Bonadonna G, Demicheli R, Folkman J, Hrushesky W, Valagussa P. Hypothesis: Induced angiogenesis after surgery in premenopausal node-positive breast cancer patients is a major underlying reason why adjuvant chemotherapy works particularly well for those patients. Breast Cancer Res. 2004; 6(4):R372-4. PMID: 15217504; PMCID: PMC468653.
  38. Demicheli R, Retsky MW. Comment on "The process of metastasisation for breast cancer" by J. Engel, R. Eckel, J. Kerr et al. Eur J Cancer. 2004 Mar; 40(4):619-20; author reply 621-3. PMID: 14962732.
    View in: PubMed
  39. Demicheli R, Bonadonna G, Hrushesky WJ, Retsky MW, Valagussa P. Menopausal status dependence of early mortality reduction due to diagnosis of smaller breast cancers (T1 v T2-T3): relevance to screening. J Clin Oncol. 2004 Jan 01; 22(1):102-7. PMID: 14701771.
    View in: PubMed
  40. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W. Breast cancer screening: controversies and future directions. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2003 Feb; 15(1):1-8. PMID: 12544495.
    View in: PubMed
  41. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W. Breast cancer screening for women aged 40-49 years: screening may not be the benign process usually thought. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2001 Oct 17; 93(20):1572. PMID: 11604483.
    View in: PubMed
  42. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W. Wounding from biopsy and breast-cancer progression. Lancet. 2001 Mar 31; 357(9261):1048. PMID: 11293631.
    View in: PubMed
  43. Retsky M, Demicheli R, Hrushesky W. Premenopausal status accelerates relapse in node positive breast cancer: hypothesis links angiogenesis, screening controversy. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2001 Feb; 65(3):217-24. PMID: 11336243.
    View in: PubMed
  44. Demicheli R, Retsky MW, Swartzendruber DE, Bonadonna G. Proposal for a new model of breast cancer metastatic development. Ann Oncol. 1997 Nov; 8(11):1075-80. PMID: 9426326.
    View in: PubMed
  45. Retsky MW, Demicheli R, Swartzendruber DE, Bame PD, Wardwell RH, Bonadonna G, Speer JF, Valagussa P. Computer simulation of a breast cancer metastasis model. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1997 Sep; 45(2):193-202. PMID: 9342444.
    View in: PubMed
  46. Stewart TH, Retsky MW, Tsai SC, Verma S. Dose response in the treatment of breast cancer. Lancet. 1994 Feb 12; 343(8894):402-4. PMID: 7905558.
    View in: PubMed
  47. Retsky MW, Swartzendruber DE, Bame PD, Wardwell RH. Computer model challenges breast cancer treatment strategy. Cancer Invest. 1994; 12(6):559-67. PMID: 7994590.
    View in: PubMed
  48. Swartzendruber DE, Retsky MW, Wardwell RH, Bame PD. An alternative approach for treatment of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1994; 32(3):319-25. PMID: 7865858.
    View in: PubMed
  49. Retsky MW, Swartzendruber DE, Bame PD, Wardwell RH. A new paradigm for breast cancer. Recent Results Cancer Res. 1993; 127:13-22. PMID: 8502810.
    View in: PubMed
  50. Retsky MW, Swartzendruber DE, Wardwell RH, Bame PD. Is Gompertzian or exponential kinetics a valid description of individual human cancer growth? Med Hypotheses. 1990 Oct; 33(2):95-106. PMID: 2259298.
    View in: PubMed
  51. Retsky M, Swartzendruber D, Wardwell R, Bame P, Petrosky V. Re: Larry Norton, a Gompertzian model of human breast cancer growth. Cancer Res. 1989 Nov 15; 49(22):6443-4. PMID: 2627216.
    View in: PubMed
  52. Retsky MW, Wardwell RH, Swartzendruber DE, Headley DL. Prospective computerized simulation of breast cancer: comparison of computer predictions with nine sets of biological and clinical data. Cancer Res. 1987 Sep 15; 47(18):4982-7. PMID: 2441859.
    View in: PubMed
  53. Speer JF, Petrosky VE, Retsky MW, Wardwell RH. A stochastic numerical model of breast cancer growth that simulates clinical data. Cancer Res. 1984 Sep; 44(9):4124-30. PMID: 6744323.
    View in: PubMed
Local representatives can answer questions about the Profiles website or help with editing a profile or issues with profile data. For assistance with this profile: SPH faculty should contact Faculty Affairs at
Retsky's Networks
Click the "See All" links for more information and interactive visualizations!
Concepts Expand Description
Co-Authors Expand Description
Similar People Expand Description
Same Department Expand Description
Physical Neighbors Expand Description