Interview with Prof Umberto Ricardi,

recipient fo the Breur Award at ESTRO 2024


Umberto Ricardi

Department of Oncology, University of Turin

Turin, Italy


The Breur Award is named after Prof Klaas Breur one of the founding fathers of ESTRO. If he had not died prematurely in 1981, he would probably have become ESTRO's first president. Professor Breur was the head of the Radiotherapy Department of the Wilhelmina Ziekenhuis van Amsterdam (Universiteit van Amsterdam) and participated in founding the EORTC.

As a tribute to Professor Breur’s pioneering work, ESTRO created this annual “Gold Medal“ award lecture in his name. The Breur Award is the highest honour that can be conferred on an ESTRO member and is awarded in recognition of the major contribution made by the winner to European Radiotherapy.

The recipient of this prestigious award delivers a lecture during the Opening Ceremony of the ESTRO Congress.


Congratulations on receiving the Breur Award! How does it feel to be recognised for your significant contribution to European radiotherapy with this prestigious honour named after Professor Klaas Breur, one of ESTRO's founding fathers?

The Breur Award is the highest honour that can be conferred on an ESTRO member and is awarded in recognition of the major contribution made by the winner to European radiotherapy. I must say that I was really excited when I read the ESTRO president’s letter, which informed me that I had the privilege to be honoured with the Klaas Breur medal for 2024, and the opportunity to deliver the Klaas Breur lecture during the opening ceremony of our forthcoming annual meeting in Glasgow. Wow ….. certainly I was excited, proud and very happy! Of course, it is important to say that such recognition is not for the work of a single person! Therefore, I want to dedicate this award to all colleagues (multi-professional) and groups I have worked with, as well as to my patients. Finally, I couldn’t have done all that I did during my career without the support of my loved ones!


Can you share a bit about your journey in the field of radiotherapy and the specific contributions that led to being awarded the Breur Gold Medal?

I started my career as a radiation oncologist in early 1990 in the same academic department where I came back as chair at the beginning of this century. From the beginning, my main areas of clinical and scientific interest were thoracic oncology, haematology and paediatric oncology. I guess that the quality of my scientific work with its international research network, together with the tremendous opportunity I had to serve our beloved Society to the best of my abilities for many years, might be why I was nominated to receive the Breur medal.


The Breur Award is a tribute to Prof Breur's pioneering work. How has his legacy influenced your approach to your work in radiotherapy?

 I well knew from the beginning of my work that Prof Breur was one of the founding fathers of ESTRO, who died prematurely in 1991. Even without the benefit of direct communication with him, from the first years of my contact with ESTRO (i.e., when I attended my first ESTRO educational courses across Europe), I immediately became aware that Prof Breur was a GIANT within our speciality, who had investigated new therapeutic approaches in many different fields. Looking now at his PubMed, I see that there are some similarities in our research portfolio (just as an example: irradiation of growing bones in children, whole lung irradiation in sarcoma/osteosarcoma, European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer studies on Hodgkin).


As part of the award tradition, you will be delivering a lecture during the ESTRO Congress opening ceremony. Can you give us a sneak peek into the key themes or insights you plan to share during your lecture?

The conference theme in Glasgow will be “Bridging the care gap”; the title of my lecture will be “A fascinating new era for radiotherapy in the treatment of haematological malignancies”. As I have said, the treatment of haematological malignancies, which are certainly not so rare as a whole group, represented and still represents a pillar of my clinical and scientific activities across my career. I will focus part of my lecture during the opening ceremony on the long-lasting debate between chemo-only and combined modality therapy in lymphoma patients (remember: bridging the care gap). Then I will move towards a new fascinating arena in which the role of radiotherapy is to ‘bridge’ or ‘prime’ treatment to enable new systemic treatments (chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell, immuno-oncology (IO)), which are opening the doors to a really fascinating vista. Therefore, I do hope that many people will attend the opening ceremony and that my lecture might get a positive reception from the attendees.


In what ways has your involvement with ESTRO shaped your professional journey, and how do you envision the organisation's role in the evolving landscape of radiotherapy?

 I had the privilege to be part of the ESTRO governance for almost 20 years in a row: board member, 2004-2006; executive administrator, 2006-2011; chair of the national societies committee, 2012-2016; ESTRO presidency, 2016-2022 (president, 2018-2020); then a Board member for one year until April 2023. So ESTRO was indeed a continuous presence during my activities, also considering my educational roles within the ESTRO School (both as course director and faculty member). Through this long journey together, it is quite obvious how ESTRO shaped my vision in terms of multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, scientific research, international cooperation and networks, and so on.

ESTRO must have the ambition to reinforce radiation oncology as a core partner in multidisciplinary cancer care, and to guarantee accessible and high-value radiation therapy for all cancer patients who need it. To achieve this, we will have to focus on technical advancements (new imaging possibilities, new treatment machines, protons, ablative treatments, artificial intelligence, etc etc), but without losing contact with the other players in the multidisciplinary arena of cancer care (medical oncologists, haematologists, surgeons, disease specialists) and while maintaining a central position in this environment as clinical oncologists.


The Breur Award is considered the highest honour for an ESTRO member. What message or advice do you have for young professionals aspiring to make significant contributions to European radiotherapy?

My advice for young professionals is exactly the same as I have given over many years to my residents: to provide quality care to your patients and to learn from any one of them; to establish international networks, both from clinical and scientific points of view; to choose good mentors for your careers; to be always motivated to study and update your skills: so, using words from a genius in another field, to “stay hungry, stay foolish!” 


Can you share a memorable moment or achievement in your career that has stood out in the lead-up to this momentous recognition with the Breur Gold Medal?

There are plenty of them, such as the start of my term in the ESTRO presidency as president-elect here in my town, Turin, during ESTRO 35 (2016); and the opening ceremony when I was president of the annual meeting in 2019 in Milano, when I conducted my long interview with famous Italian football player Gianluca Vialli, who sadly passed away one year ago. A highly memorable moment occurred in January 2018 when I became the Dean of the School of Medicine in my university concurrently with the start of my ESTRO president role.


Finally, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of radiotherapy, and how do you plan to continue contributing to its advancement?

Hopes and aspirations? To reinforce radiation oncology as a key component in multidisciplinary cancer care, of course, adapting role and indications with the results of scientific research; and to guarantee accessible and high-value radiation therapy for all cancer patients who need it, trying to bridge the care gap, which is too often still present with regard to radiotherapy. Having been born in 1961, I should have, health permitting, more than seven years of work left before I retire; I will certainly continue in my positions, providing a full commitment to our cancer patients, teaching radiotherapy to medical students and assisting our residents and other young colleagues whose careers I mentor.

Don’t forget that we have a few years left to get the 2030 vision statement achieved: Radiation Oncology, Optimal Health for all, together.