Colleagues mourn passing of Steven Leibel, expert in cancer radiotherapy

- By Amy Adams

Steven Leibel

Steven Leibel

Steven Leibel, MD, the Ann and John Doerr Medical Director of the Stanford Cancer Center, died Feb. 7 while vacationing in Hawaii. He was 61.

Leibel came to Stanford in 2004 as the first medical director of the newly opened cancer center. He oversaw roughly 350 cancer specialists at the center, including physicians in medical, surgical and radiation oncology and other health professionals working with cancer patients and their families.

School of Medicine officials said Leibel was key to Stanford's successful effort to receive National Cancer Institute designation for the cancer center.

'Steve was highly respected by his colleagues at Stanford as well as nationally and internationally. He will be deeply missed,' said Philip Pizzo, MD, dean of the medical school. 'Our hearts go out to his wife, parents and family - we have all lost a colleague, leader and friend.'

Cancer center director Irving Weissman, MD, said Leibel's expertise helped turn the center into a first-rate institution. 'Throughout the development of the cancer center and especially in the recruitment of first-class clinicians and scientists, he showed extraordinary insight into the kinds of people who could advance our knowledge about the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,' Weissman said. He added that while taking on administrative duties, Leibel kept his interest in developing cancer treatments.

A San Francisco native, Leibel received his MD from UC-San Francisco, where he did residency training in radiation oncology. He served on the faculties at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and UCSF before he joined the Department of Radiation Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1988, where he became chair in 1998.

While at Sloan-Kettering, Leibel helped developed precise therapies for treating cancers of the prostate and the brain. This involved sophisticated new techniques in radiotherapy known as 3-D conformal radiation therapy and intensity-modulated radiation therapy. These techniques more precisely targeted tumors with high-dose radiation while sparing normal tissues. The result has been improvement in cure rates for some cancers, including prostate cancer.

Richard Hoppe, MD, professor and chair of radiation oncology at Stanford, said the radiation technique Leibel advocated has become standard care in prostate cancer. 'He was one of the most widely respected radiation oncologists in the field,' he said.

Hoppe added that Leibel's experience at three different cancer centers 'gave him special talent in being able to bring people together.'

Beverly Mitchell, MD, deputy director of the cancer center, said Leibel 'was committed to the very best cancer care and treatment at Stanford. His sudden loss comes as a great shock to all of us. We will miss him greatly and will do our best to carry on, as he would have wished, to expand upon what he has accomplished so well.'

Leibel was president and chair of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology, and received the society's gold medal. He was president of the American Board of Radiology, the board-certifying body for diagnostic radiology, radiation oncology and medical physics. He was also on the board of Varian Medical Systems, Inc.

Leibel is survived by his wife, Margy, of Palo Alto; his parents, Dave and Tillie Leibel, of Palo Alto, and his stepdaughter, Nicole Dennis, of Pleasanton, Calif. Memorial services are being planned.

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