Philip John DiSaia, MD, Past President of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO), Past President of the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ABOG), and Group Presiding Chair of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG), passed away peacefully at his home on Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018.
The grandson of Italian immigrants, Philip John DiSaia was born on Aug. 14, 1937 in Providence, RI. He earned his Bachelor’s in Science at Brown University and his MD at Tufts University. Upon the advice of his mentor in medical school, Dr. DiSaia obtained two years of General Surgery training, followed by residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Yale University where he met Edward J. Quilligan, MD, creator of the fetal heart rate monitor.
During residency, Dr. DiSaia published the paper that first brought to light the teratogenic effects of warfarin on the human fetus. He next fulfilled his commitment to serve in the U.S. Navy and then successfully competed for a grant through the American Cancer Society which funded his fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology under the tutelage of Felix Noah Rutledge, MD at MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute in Houston, TX. During this period he would form long-lasting bonds with his co-fellow, William T. Creasman, MD.
In 1976 Dr. DiSaia was recruited following a national search for a Chair for the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of California, Irvine. Accompanied by Dr. Quilligan, Dr. DiSaia sought to establish a traditional academic department at UC Irvine and would ultimately distinguish the Department of Ob/Gyn as one of the preeminent institutions dedicated to women’s health.
In addition to a nationally recognized residency program and robust volunteer clinical faculty comprised of community ob/gyn(s), the department flourished under his leadership with the establishment of four clinically directed and research-driven Divisions in Gynecologic Oncology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and Urogynecology. Embedded in each Division was a highly sought after fellowship training program.
Dr. DiSaia established the first four-year program in Gyn Oncology, created a direct corridor for translational research collaboration with the basic scientists in UCI’s School of Biological Sciences, and was the first to obtain NIH funding through a T32 grant to fund the two research years of the fellowship.
Dr. DiSaia has served as President of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology and President of the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology. During his four consecutive terms as Group Presiding Chair of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group, Dr. DiSaia spearheaded the practice-changing clinical trials that established the role for adjuvant radiotherapy for early stage high-risk endometrial cancer, chemotherapy for advanced/recurrent endometrial cancer, anti-angiogenesis therapy and intraperitoneal chemotherapy for newly diagnosed advanced ovarian cancer, chemoradiation for locally advanced cervical cancer, anti-angiogenesis therapy for recurrent/metastatic cervical cancer, and sentinel lymphatic mapping for early stage vulvar cancer.
At UC Irvine, his research endeavors have had as their focus the immunology of tumor biology, the safety of estrogen replacement therapy among breast and endometrial cancer survivors, and the development of less disfiguring surgical approaches for vulvar cancer. Dr. DiSaia’s and Dr. Creasman’s, Clinical Gynecologic Oncology, is the most widely read textbook in the subspecialty and is currently in its 9th edition and has been translated into several languages.
Dr. DiSaia is the recipient of the University of California Gold Medal and a Certificate of Commemoration from the United States Senate. At the turn of the Millenium, Dr. DiSaia was granted an audience with Pope John Paul II and shortly thereafter was granted an Honorary Degree from the University of Brescia in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. Dr. DiSaia’s legacy lives in the hearts of the numerous residents and fellows he has trained over the past 42 years at UC Irvine. During this period, he eased the suffering and/or cured thousands of women who struggled with gynecologic malignancies. He loved old medical tomes, the New England Patriots, and Italian wines. Dr. DiSaia is survived by his loving wife, Patti DiSaia, and their four sons and wives, and numerous grandchildren.
“Philip DiSaia led our field for decades. His leadership of GOG Foundation was exemplary in the manner he mentored many. He will be missed but not forgotten.” —Larry Copeland, MD
“It’s hard to completely illuminate the impact Dr. DiSaia has had on our specialty and on the individuals who populate it – it’s vast. Ultimately the beneficiaries are the patients. Vision, leadership, mentorship, quality, research, friendship, family-all elements perfected. This is a great loss.” –-Robert L. Coleman, MD
“A giant in the field who contributed in so many ways. One of his many important strengths was serving as a mentor/sponsor for so many. He will be greatly missed by all.” –Laurel W. Rice, MD
“Phil was a great leader in our field and will be missed by all. My condolences to his family.” –Peter Schwartz, MD
“Dr. DiSaia was an important influence on my career, first through his amazing text book that he wrote with Dr. Creasman. Second, his leadership in organizations such as WAGO, SGO, GOG. Third, his vision to make SGO an inclusive organization and fourth, through his generous advice especially when I was SGO president.” –Barbara Goff, MD
“Phil was a great role model for many, and, as I told him years ago, he was the Frank Sinatra of gynecologic oncology. He will be missed.” –David Gershenson, MD
“The SGO has been blessed with strong leaders with a vision that has moved the Society and the specialty forward beyond reasonable expectations. None of those leaders, in my opinion, have had greater influence than Phil DiSaia. On a personal note I owe my professional growth to Phil and I am most grateful to him. I will surely miss him.” –Michael Berman, MD
“We have lost a remarkable leader and passionate advocate for gynecologic oncology and the women we care for. Dr. DiSaia, Phil—was a role model and a friend. An inspiration and a trusted, honest advisor. His commitment to every aspect of gyn oncology was only superseded by his love of family. The breadth and magnitude of his contributions are incomparable. He will be greatly missed by many. –Beth Karlan, MD
“We came along at the same time in GYN onc and were very close friends.. he was “the leader” in our specialty!! Phil must be credited with making GYN Onc the success it is today!! A leader, fantastic clinician, great ideas, and everybody’s friend that will truly be missed!!” –Paul Underwood, MD
“It goes without saying that a giant has left us; however, he leaves behind a guide all should strive to obtain. Personally I have lost a life long best friend and colleague, a relationship that I have and will continue to cherish. Phil has become an icon to those who have strived to emulate his academic, clincial, national and interantional leadership and mentorship but probably most important his friendship. Erble and I have on many occassions spent hours, days, weeks with Phil and Patti both at home and around the world. What a great relationship! Our prayers and thoughts continue for Patti and their sons.”
Che Dio ti accompagni, mio amico.
Bill and Erble
–William Creasman, MD