Acclaimed cancer physician heads Scripps MD Anderson


Dr. Thomas Buchholz is acclaimed as one of the leading cancer physicians in the world.

Now, he is sharing his expertise in this region as medical director of the recently created Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The center is an amalgamation of resources between San Diego-based Scripps Health and Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is ranked among the best cancer-fighting institutions in the nation.

Buchholz worked and held leadership positions at MD Anderson for two decades before taking the job with the newly formed collaboration in San Diego and moving to Rancho Santa Fe.

"Tom Buchholz is a consummate cancer care provider, leader, teammate and clinical researcher," MD Anderson President Dr. Peter Pisters said in an email. "He brings to MD Anderson Cancer Center not only a stellar career as a clinician, but tremendous experience as an executive bringing together teams and people to deliver the highest quality multidisciplinary cancer care.

"Dr. Buchholz’s commitment to patients, colleagues and community make him an ideal fit for Scripps MD Anderson, and his experience at MD Anderson adds an especially valuable perspective."

A radiation oncologist specialist, he has written more than 350 peer-reviewed journal articles cited around the world as benchmarks in helping to guide treatment decisions, information provided by Scripps states.

Among many accomplishments, he-cofounded the world’s first clinic to treat patients with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare, highly aggressive form of the disease, according to Scripps representatives.

“One thing I want to comment on is what an engaged community we have here,” Buchholz said. “Now, people can receive the same degree of care here that is available in Houston.”

Buchholz said he often treated patients in Houston who had been referred there from Southern California. Now, they should be able to receive the same level of treatment here.

“The degree of excitement across the community about this development and the willingness to want to be part of it has just been really rewarding,” Buchholz said. “It’s been a very welcoming city and a very welcoming culture, a culture that really wants to give back and help us with this mission.”

Scripps is one of a number of alliances MD Anderson has formed over the last decade with cancer treatment centers around the nation — efforts that Buchholz described as fully integrated partnerships.

Other partnerships have been established with Banner Health in Phoenix, Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Fla., Cooper University in southern New Jersey and Summit Medical Group in northern New Jersey.

“MD Anderson has a mission to eradicate cancer throughout the nation and the world,” Buchholz said. “In doing so, it recognized that it wanted to have an impact beyond its presence in Houston.

“Over the past five to 10 years, we’ve aligned with strategic national partners to bring forward a national network of clinical care, prevention, treatment and research.”

Joining forces with Scripps Health was a natural step, considering the San Diego system’s own record as a leader in cancer care and treatment.

“Scripps has always had an outstanding reputation in oncology care and oncology research dating back many decades,” the 56-year-old physician said. “Scripps has been instrumental in identifying new drugs that have become a standard of care and it’s recognized as a leader in providing resources. To combine that with the resources available in Houston is a really exciting proposition.”

Buchholz said executives at MD Anderson and Scripps began talking of joining forces over two years ago.

“We found a great alignment of patient care and physicians’ specialties,” Buchholz said. “There was just an immediate synergy in our mission to combat the disease of cancer and a great relationship developed.

“The two institutions really have similar philosophies of care that put the patients in the forefront and they are dedicated to working as a team of cancer care providers rather than as individuals.

“The desire is to take forward the resources of both institutions to further cancer treatment, research, awareness and prevention here in Southern California. ... It’s really a big step forward for treatment here in San Diego.”

A key concept in forming the collaborations, including the one with Scripps, is to provide a multidisciplinary array of services to patients, the medical equivalent of one-stop shopping.

When patients receive an appointment at Scripps MD Anderson, they will see a gamut of professionals involved in the treatment process, including medical and radiation oncologists, pathologists, surgeons, nurses and nutritionists.

Patients will be assigned a nurse navigator to guide them and their family through the process.

To date, the approach is offered for the most common cancer sites: breast, lung, gastrointestinal and genitourinary (prostate). Other areas will be addressed as the collaboration unfolds.

Buchholz’s personal journey to becoming a heralded figure in medicine had an unlikely beginning. In undergraduate school, he majored in philosophy.

“I decided to go to medical school because I really enjoyed being involved in human interactions and being able to help people at the time of their greatest vulnerability and need,” he said. “I think that is what really led me to cancer treatment and the possibility of improving the survival rate and comfort of cancer patients.”

His expertise in radiation oncology began during his service in the U.S. Air Force. The bulk of his career, however, unfolded at MD Anderson.

“Medicine enabled me to have a career in which I could form meaningful personal relationships and help people who are going on the most significant personal journey in their lives,” Buchholz said.

“As a physician, you’re coming into people’s lives and helping them at a time when they’ve been told they have such a terrible disease. ... At the same time, it is important for readers to know how much hope there is right now and how many positive developments we have. How exciting is it that we have the ability to understand cancer now that we didn’t have five to 10 years ago?”

For more information on Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center in San Diego, visit