Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Overview and History

In 1890, five years before German physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen announced his discovery of the rays that made the field of radiology possible, a University of Pennsylvania physics professor and a photographer inadvertently exposed two coins to a photographic plate and produced an X-ray. Not understanding the accident, they filed the film, only to recall it and realize what they had done when Roentgen's work at the Physical Institute of the University of Wurzburg became public in 1895.

The University of Pennsylvania was poised to take advantage of this new technology. The first X-rays (called “skiagraphs”) were taken of extremities. By June of 1896, the Chief of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) used a skiagraph to locate a toy jack that a child had swallowed. Within months, several HUP departments were using roentgen rays for diagnosis, surgical planning, and follow-up. In 1898, the School appointed the first Instructor of Skiagraphy, Charles Lester Leonard.

Henry K. Pancoast, M.D. became the first professor of roentgenology in the United States in the Department of Surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 1912. The same year, Dr. Pancoast was named President of the American Roentgen Ray Society. In 1919, he was named President of the American Radium Society and subsequently elected President of the American College of Radiology in 1933. In 1934, Dr. Pancoast was named as the first President of the newly forming American Board of Radiology, but his ill health prevented him from any active participation in its activities. Dr. Pancoast was a pioneer in using x-rays to treat leukemia and Hodgkin's disease and helped lead Philadelphia medicine and American radiology for four decades until his death in 1939.

In 1939, Radiology was established as an independent department of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, emerging from the Department of Surgery.

The Department of Radiation Oncology was established in 1977, as an outgrowth of the Departments of Surgery and Radiology, successively. Dr. Stanley Baum, who was appointed the fifth chair of Radiology in 1975, noted the national movement toward the separation of diagnostic and therapeutic radiology and proposed to separate radiation therapy into a new, independent department. In 1977, Dr. Robert Goodman was recruited from Boston to become the first chair of the new Department of Radiation Oncology. During his tenure as chair, Dr. Goodman was the National President of the Society of Chairmen of Academic Radiation Oncology Programs. Also under his leadership, HUP became the first hospital in the Delaware Valley to offer breast conserving surgery and radiation therapy and to investigate the radio- and chemoprotector WR-2721. Dr. W. Gillies McKenna succeeded him as department chair in 1991.

The first century of radiation therapy has seen numerous pioneering advances in healing, patient care, and scientific knowledge. Practitioners have evolved from practical experimentalists and therapists advancing clinical observations and techniques, to today's multidisciplinary approach to individual cancer care. The history of the field has been enhanced by the many dedicated professionals whose integration of the various components, including clinical medicine, medical physics, dosimetry, pathology, and radiation biology, have redefined the public and scientific perception of radiation oncology. Throughout the last century, radiation biologists have worked in active cooperation with clinicians, to refine knowledge of the varying effects of radiation on the living body.

Under Dr. McKenna's leadership, the Department of Radiation Oncology has made significant progress in its missions of education, research and clinical services. From 1991 to 2004, the Department grew from eight to over thirty five full-time faculty. The research funding awarded to the Department has grown from $1.7 million in 1992 to $9.6 million in 2004. The Department of Radiation Oncology (combined with the Department of Radiology) has ranked first in its specialty in NIH research awards in all but one year of Dr. McKenna's tenure as department chair.

Radiation therapy services include many with combined chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer. The Department of Radiation Oncology works closely with the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania and provides treatment for brain tumors, breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, genitourinary cancer, gynecologic malignancies, lung cancer, pediatric tumors, skin cancers and stereotactic radiosurgery.

Imaging procedures for treatment planning include X-ray filming and fluoroscopy, and CT linkage with computerized dosimetry. Specialists also use a system for more accurate delivery of radiation to the tumor site with less damage to surrounding tissues. Known as Conformal Radiation Therapy, the system uses a variable computer-controlled multileaf collimator that targets the cancer site and permits delivery of radiation from several directions, while sparing adjacent normal structures. It should be noted that approximately thirty percent (30%) of HUP based treatments are IMRT based.

Investigations of the radio- and chemoprotector WR-2721 are ongoing in the Department, as it research on perfluorocarbons, which are chemical means of sensitizing cancer cells to radiation for better tumor control. The Department also maintains a very active photodynamic therapy program under the guidance of Dr. Eli Glatstein.

The Department has expanded its clinical base from two facilities to seven under Dr. McKenna's leadership. In addition to the Department's main site at HUP, Penn Radiation Oncology services are also available at Capital Health System's Mercer Campus, Pennsylvania Hospital, the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center, Chester County Hospital, Holy Redeemer Hospital and Phoenixville Hospital.

Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. was appointed as Chair-designate of the Department of Radiation Oncology, effective August 1, 2005. He had served as the Vice Chair and Director of Research for his department, under the previous departmental administration. He brought outstanding credentials as clinician, investigator and educator to the faculty in 1996, after having served as Senior Investigator at the National Cancer Institute.  A Philadelphia native, Dr. Hahn received his baccalaureate degree from Rice University and his M.D. from Temple University. His postgraduate training included an internship and residency in internal medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, where he served as Chief Resident, and a medical oncology fellowship and radiation oncology residency at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Dr. Hahn has achieved national and international recognition for his contributions as a clinical and translational investigator in the area of experimental therapeutics pertinent to radiation oncology and has been a driving force in the clinical development of the hypoxia marker drug, EF5, for human use. He is the project leader on a multidisciplinary National Cancer Institute / NIH program project grant and principal investigator on an NIH RO1, as well a co- principal investigator on several other sponsored studies. An active and highly praised contributor to the educational mission of the School of Medicine, Dr. Hahn teaches in required and elective courses in the medical student curriculum and in the training of residents, fellows and physicians in medical and radiation oncology. In 1999, he was honored with the Giulio J. D'Angio, M.D. award for Excellence in Teaching in Radiation Oncology by his department.

Dr. James Metz assumed the position of Interim Chairman in December of 2014, and was then officially name Chairman in July of 2015, thus taking over and leading ever higher a Department that had achieved excellence and prominence under Dr. Hahn.

The following individuals have served as chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine:

  • Robert L. Goodman, M.D., 1977-1990
  • Morton Kligerman, M.D. (acting), 1990-1991
  • William Gillies McKenna, M.D., Ph.D., 1991-2005
  • Eli Glatstein, M.D. (acting), 2005
  • Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., 2005-2014
  • James M. Metz, M.D, 2014 - present

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