Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2023 issue of Forward magazine, which is published twice a year by Fox Chase Cancer Center.

 By Marian Auriemma

An influential faculty member at Fox Chase Cancer Center and a worldwide pioneer in radiation oncology, Gerald “Jerry” Hanks revolutionized the field and left a legacy for those who followed.

“His overarching goal in his career was essentially to figure out how to take technology and better treat cancer patients by integrating it into our radiation oncology practice. He was also a huge fan of using data to shape how you make treatment decisions,” said Eric Horwitz, Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Fox Chase and the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, and one of Hanks’ former mentees.

Hanks received his medical degree from Washington University in St. Louis before radiation oncology became a separate medical specialty. By the 1960s, he became one of the first three residents in the United States to be trained specifically as a radiation oncologist at Stanford University. After completing his residency, he held academic faculty appointments not only at Fox Chase but at Stanford, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Pennsylvania.

After working in private practice from 1971 to 1985, Hanks assumed the chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Fox Chase, a position he held for 16 years. While there, his advances included the first routine use in the United States of CT and MRI in planning radiation treatment and the use of ultrasound to improve the accuracy of each daily treatment.

“Jerry basically developed and put into practice the way to safely deliver higher doses of radiation more precisely, thereby curing more cancers with fewer side effects. This technique was called 3D conformal radiation therapy, and it revolutionized the practice of radiation oncology in the 1980s and 1990s,” said Horwitz.

First used for prostate cancer, this therapy has become routine for many cancer sites and is now used globally. For men at high risk of prostate cancer, Hanks established the Prostate Cancer Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase in 1996. It offers not only screening but also education about risk factors and how to reduce them, genetic counseling, and the opportunity to take part in prevention-oriented research.

But his accomplishments in the use of new technology for treatment and decision-making are not Hanks’ only legacies. He is remembered by colleagues as an effective collaborator with an eye for selecting the best and brightest.

“He was a truly influential radiation oncologist on the international stage and gathered a great group of younger people at this institution, most of whom also became markedly influential. To put it simply, he knew how to pick ‘em and was an exceptional mentor,” said John Ridge, Professor Emeritus and Louis Della Penna Family Chair in Head and Neck Cancer at Fox Chase.

“Thirty years ago, when I joined the institution, he was instrumental not only in supporting the multidisciplinary team that we developed here, but in addition he was attentive to supporting the careers of many young people, even when they were not radiation oncologists,” said Ridge.

To those mentees, including Horwitz, he is remembered as a kind person and innovative clinician who could make patients secure in the care they were receiving and colleagues feel assured in the care they were offering.

“He was very good at explaining things to people and translating complicated subjects with understandable explanations. He just had a way of instilling confidence in people. In that way, I’ve tried to channel him in how I take care of patients,” said Horwitz.

Hanks retired from medicine in 2001 and was honored for his contributions with the creation of the Gerald E. Hanks Chair in Radiation Oncology at Fox Chase, which is now held by Horwitz. Hanks passed away on December 20, 2017, at the age of 83.