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ASCO Remembers Dr. Saul A. Rosenberg, ASCO Past President and Pioneer of Hodgkin Lymphoma Treatment

Sep 06, 2022

On September 5, 2022, the oncology community lost a pioneer in the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma, Saul A. Rosenberg, MD, FASCO. Dr. Rosenberg was the Maureen Lyles D’Ambrogio Professor in the School of Medicine, Emeritus, at Stanford University.

Together with the late Henry Kaplan, MD, Dr. Rosenberg developed and tested the use of targeted radiation and the combination of radiation and chemotherapy for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma more than 50 years ago at Stanford. His ongoing commitment to finding successful treatment for the disease helped increase survival rates to approximately 90%.

Dr. Rosenberg’s commitment to improving cancer outcomes extended beyond Stanford through his work with ASCO. He served as the chair of the Scientific Program Committee before becoming the Society’s president in 1982-1983. Dr. Rosenberg received ASCO’s David A. Karnofsky Award, the Society’s highest scientific honor, in 1984, and its Distinguished Service Award for Scientific Achievement in 1998. He was recognized for his volunteer service to the Society with the Fellow of ASCO (FASCO) designation in 2007.

Dr. Rosenberg grew up in Cleveland and earned his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He trained as a radiobiologist and internist at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston and completed a fellowship in medical neoplasia at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He was recruited to Stanford by Dr. Kaplan in 1961.

Dr. Rosenberg joined Dr. Kaplan’s research into the use of radiation to treat Hodgkin lymphoma at a time when radiation for cancer treatment was in its very early stages. Together, they developed protocols for some of the earliest randomized clinical trials for the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma. One of their first clinical trials, called the L1 trial, showed that patients treated with more aggressive total lymphoid radiation had improved outcomes. This treatment became a standard of care for patients with stage I or II disease until the late 1980s.

Dr. Rosenberg played a pivotal role in the development of the pathologic staging laparotomy to gain a better understanding of the extent of disease dissemination. He also worked with Dr. Kaplan and colleagues to combine radiation with mechlorethamine, vincristine, procarbazine, and prednisone (MOPP) chemotherapy, a regimen that would eventually prove to be curative in a majority of patients with advanced disease.

Dr. Rosenberg is also credited with establishing the oncology program at Stanford, mentoring many up-and-coming oncologists who would go on to be leaders in the field.

In a 2018 interview for the Journal of Clinical Oncology’s “Conversations With the Pioneers of Oncology” podcast, host Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, asked Dr. Rosenberg about the legacy he hoped to leave behind. His response is particularly poignant in light of his recent passing.

“There's only three things that I'm going to leave after me—my children, my students, and my patients,” Dr. Rosenberg answered. “My advances for treatment were tremendous but are all now overturned and built upon. But my students, whether it be medical students or postdocs or my colleagues, were my greatest advance. I am so proud that they have succeeded so much. I felt that I have been a trunk of a tree, and every branch that comes off carries twigs and flowers and plants [that] multiply what I have done just because I started them off.

“Nothing has been more important to me than to be a good teacher. And my students all know that I'm a wonderful doctor. That's what they tell me. And to be a careful, caring physician, how to talk to patients, how to examine them, how to tell them good news and bad news—the skill of being a medical oncologist, and actually to be a physician in general, is such a joy. I mean, to have these people depend on us and believe in us the moment you walk in the room, if you're gentle and you know how to touch them and to talk to them—this is such a joy. I can't think of any other word in being a physician but especially being a medical oncologist. It has been a joy.”

Learn more about Dr. Rosenberg’s life, work, and legacy:

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