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Siteman Cancer Center and the Foundation: Celebrating 20 Years Together

Alvin J. Siteman rarely talks publicly about his role in creating the world-renowned cancer center bearing his name. But in a video made some years ago, he explained why he and his wife Ruth were motivated to make the $35 million gift that served as the catalyst for fundraising efforts that established the center on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine campus. The video was made for The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Illumination gala that supports cancer research.

“A very close friend of mine developed brain cancer, a very aggressive brain cancer. I observed as a close friend of the family how very difficult it was for the family to have to go to Houston,” Al says in the video. “I made my major commitment to bring the cancer center into fruition and the drive began for us to raise $125 million for that purpose, which I’m happy to say was most successful.”

The reason behind the Sitemans’ pivotal gift epitomizes why so many individuals, businesses and organizations readily contributed to the campaign. The community cared about cancer patients and their families, was committed to winning the battle against cancer and strongly believed St. Louis was the best place for a world-class cancer center. Still holding those beliefs, the community continues to invest philanthropically in the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.   

Washington University Chancellor Andrew Martin remembers being a young faculty member at the time the cancer center was established.

“I thought how great for our medical school to work with BJC (HealthCare) to pull together so much talent across the organization to serve the community,” he says in a Siteman history video. “I remember the excitement here in St. Louis about us finally having our own cancer center. I don’t think we could have imagined at that time how strong Siteman would become.”

Now, as Siteman celebrates its 20th anniversary, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital is grateful to the many generous donors who have helped make the center a national leader in cancer treatment and research. Siteman is the only cancer center in Missouri to hold the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and membership in the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. It has received the NCI’s highest possible rating of “exceptional” and is ranked among the top cancer facilities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“We are so proud to be a part of Siteman’s history,” says Susan Ell, vice president and executive director, The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “Thanks to our donors, we’ve partnered with Siteman for the past 20 years and plan to continue our support for the next 20 years and beyond.”

The financial commitment from Alvin and Ruth Siteman and the use of their name were at the heart of the fundraising collaboration between Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine that began in 1999. Al Siteman is a former chairman of the board of the Foundation and is an emeritus member of the boards of both the Foundation and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

"The Sitemans' generous pledge will greatly benefit efforts to lessen the burden of cancer on communities in the St. Louis area, the Midwest and beyond for years to come,” Mark S. Wrighton, who served as Washington University Chancellor from 1995 to 2019, said at the time the gift was announced.

And he was right. Since the center opened its doors 20 short years ago it has touched the lives of more than one million cancer patients.

As part of the continuing efforts to drive innovation in research and patient care at Siteman Cancer Center, the Foundation hosts the annual Illumination Gala. Since Illumination’s beginning in 2007, funds raised through the event have launched more than 125 cancer research projects that have led to breast cancer and melanoma vaccines, improved treatment and outcomes for pancreatic cancer, breakthroughs in leukemia and lymphoma, and so much more. This year, the gala will be held virtually on October 23, with a goal of raising $4.5 million to accelerate innovation. Please visit the Illumination Gala website for more details.

“There’s just been an extraordinary outpouring from our friends and supporters, not just individuals, but corporations who have gotten behind us and supported us,” says Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, who has been director of the Siteman Cancer Center since its inception. “It’s these critical dollars we are able to invest before obtaining peer review funds. These dollars are invested in new innovations, new strategies and new treatment paradigms that result in new opportunities to cure patients.”

Among the many advances at Siteman made possible by philanthropic dollars was the 2013 opening of the S. Lee Kling Proton Therapy Center. The center became the first regional facility, and the world’s first center featuring a compact proton beam accelerator, to target tumors using highly-accurate proton beams, thereby sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.

The idea for the center came from S. Lee Kling, a former chairman of the Foundation’s board of directors. Kling, who had to travel to Boston for proton therapy treatments for an eye tumor, believed the therapy should be available in St. Louis.

As a result, Kling—along with family and friends—established the S. Lee Kling Chair in Radiation Oncology at Barnes-Jewish Hospital to help lead the proton center’s development and conduct research into the most effective ways to use the new technology.

Thanks to generous donors, the proton therapy center was able to take a big step in June 2020 with the instillation of pencil beam scanning technology that provides an even greater degree of precision. The addition made Siteman the first cancer center in the region to offer this technology.

In addition to proton therapy, the following are just some of Siteman’s many milestones in its impressive 20-year history:

  • 2004: Siteman was awarded the prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the NCI, placing it among the most highly ranked cancer institutions in the nation.

  • 2006: Siteman was selected to join the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of the world’s premier cancer centers, charged with setting the standard for cancer care.

  • 2009: Siteman was awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence Grant (SPORE) from the NCI to study endometrial cancer. This was the first SPORE awarded to the Washington University School of Medicine and the first ever dedicated to endometrial cancer. Since then, Siteman has been awarded two additional SPORE grants, focused on research on leukemia and pancreatic cancer.

  • 2014: The world’s first MRI-guided radiation therapy treatment was performed at Siteman. The technique allows tumors to be visualized and treatment adapted.

  • 2015: The NCI awarded Siteman an “exceptional” rating, the highest possible by the NCI.

  • 2017: Siteman became one of the first cancer centers nationwide to offer the newly approved immunotherapy called CAR-T cell therapy. 

  • 2017: Washington University physicians at Siteman performed their 7,500th bone marrow transplant. The adult bone marrow and stem cell transplant program, which began in 1982, is one of the largest in the world, performing nearly 500 transplants each year.

  • 2018: The opening of Parkview Tower consolidated the cancer-related inpatient services of Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Presently, there are six outpatient centers associated with Siteman. 

  • 2020: Siteman received its second consecutive “exceptional” rating from the NCI while celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“The growth at Siteman Cancer Center is nothing less than phenomenal,” says Richard Liekweg, BJC HealthCare president and CEO, in a video. “Quite simply over the next 20 years I would like to see Siteman Cancer Center cure cancer. I actually believe it’s possible that together we are going to be able to make cancer a chronic disease.”

The Foundation is excited to be part of propelling Siteman’s journey toward a world without cancer. To join us on this mission developing advanced treatments and discovering cures, please visit us at




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