The House(s) Dr. Charles Coltman Built
Much of the SWOG Cancer Research Network was built by one man. That was Charles Arthur Coltman, Jr., M.D., our longest-serving chair. Dr. Coltman led our group from 1981 to 2005. Last week, he passed away in his Texas home at the age of 88.
SWOG and all who do oncology research owe him so much. Dr. Coltman was the founder and creator of:
- The Hope Foundation for Cancer Research, source of so much of our inspiration and innovation
- Our Statistics and Data Management Center, based at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
- Our Young Investigator Training Course, which has trained 100 people and launched 45 trials
- Our patient advocacy program, the oldest and largest in our National Clinical Trials Network
- Our cancer prevention efforts, launched in 1987 as part of the Cancer Control Committee
- Our minority community oncology program, which serves African-Americans, Latinos, and others
- Our website, SWOG.org
- Our early international efforts, which started in Japan and now extend to Latin America
And then, of course, there’s the science.
Dr. Coltman was a champion of some of our best trials, embracing both treatment and prevention studies. On his own, way back in 1967 when we were still the Southwest Cancer Chemotherapy Group, he led the first NCI test of cytosine arabinoside (ara-C) in acute myelogenous leukemia. The trial compared a two-day- against a five-day infusion and found the response rate skyrocketed with the longer dosing. With Dr. Richard Fisher, Dr. Coltman also helped lead pioneering work in the CHOP combination chemotherapy.
Dr. Coltman also provided exceptional leadership on our two landmark cancer prevention trials – SELECT and the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial. Together, those studies enrolled more than 53,000 men.
With approval from his family, we published this obituary in the San Antonio News-Express today. We also have posted this announcement on SWOG.org, complete with photos. The Hope Foundation for Cancer Research also shares this remembrance on their website.
As these tributes attest, Dr. Coltman’s impact on cancer research was significant, and it was global. He helped create the Vail Workshop (which now has its own hashtag), and co-founded the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, where he was honored this week. He enhanced cancer research involving Asia and South America, and expanded early career training encompassing Europe.
There are so many aspects of Dr. Coltman that we will miss. A native of Pennsylvania, he embraced his adopted state of Texas – and never missed any special opportunity to wear his cowboy boots, hat, and duster. Dr. Coltman was still quite formal, showing up at the SWOG office in San Antonio every day in a suit and tie and comporting himself crisply like the Air Force colonel that he was. He could also be wickedly funny.
Former SWOG group statistician John Crowley said: “I still find myself using words, expressions and phrases I got from him – Coltmanisms like “alphabetagooferdust” and “difungomuctane” for the latest drug combos, “That good, eh?” when someone said they were just “OK,” and my favorite way to close a meeting: “Everyone opposed to adjourning, please remain seated.”
His impact will live on within SWOG for many decades to come. The Coltman family is planning a January 12 service in San Antonio. I will be sure to share details here as soon as I get them.