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A Musculoskeletal Oncologist Who's an ‘Avenger’ for Patients Joins the CU Cancer Center

Steven Thorpe, MD, FACS, is the new chief of a CU Department of Orthopedics program focused on sarcomas and other bone and soft-tissue cancers.

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Written by Mark Harden on June 24, 2024

The University of Colorado Cancer Center has recruited Steven Thorpe, MD, FACS, a renowned orthopedic surgical oncologist and a sarcoma and limb-salvage specialist, to join the Department of Orthopedics at the CU School of Medicine as the new chief of the musculoskeletal oncology program.

In announcing Thorpe’s appointment, the department said: “Our vision is that the musculoskeletal oncology program will become the premier center not only in the region, but in the country.”

Thorpe comes to the CU Cancer Center from the University of California, Davis, where he worked for nearly eight years. At CU, he will work alongside musculoskeletal oncology specialists Bennie Lindeque, MD, PhD, and Nathan Donaldson, DO.

“I couldn’t be more excited to join the Department of Orthopedics at CU, partnering with Drs. Lindeque and Donaldson, and the rest of the sarcoma team at both the CU Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital Colorado, to help us become the preferred treatment center in the region and a national leader in delivering care to patients with sarcoma and musculoskeletal tumors,” Thorpe says.

Thorpe’s goals at the CU Cancer Center, he says, include helping “to amplify our musculoskeletal section’s role in sarcoma care, play a key role in the sarcoma multidisciplinary program, and to grow the footprint of our sarcoma mission.”

Sarcoma focus

Musculoskeletal oncology, also known as orthopedic oncology, is a specialized field within orthopedic surgery focused on diagnosing and treating tumors and musculoskeletal conditions, including bone and soft-tissue sarcomas, metastatic bone disease, and benign bone and soft tissue tumors.

The CU Cancer Center is home to the Sarcoma Multidisciplinary Clinic, which offers patients an “all in one” approach to clinical care. There are multiple sarcoma clinical trials being offered by CU Cancer Center members at any time.

As a clinician, Thorpe has extensive expertise in bone and soft-tissue sarcomas in both adult and pediatric patients, specializing in limb-sparing resections and reconstructions for bone and soft tissue sarcomas of the extremities. He has particular interest in pediatric limb salvage procedures and surgical resections and recontructions for sarcomas of the pelvis.

“I’m also very passionate about taking care of patients with metastatic bone disease. It can affect them significantly from a pain and function standpoint and quality of life,” he says.

At UCDavis, a patient referred to the multidisciplinary team that Thorpe led to treat her complex sarcoma in 2022 as her “Avengers.” The patient commented: “Dr. Thorpe encouraged me every step of the way, which helped keep up my spirit. His fist bumps and high fives really meant a lot to me. And even though we all wore masks, Dr. Thorpe’s eyes tell you he is in it wholeheartedly.”

As a researcher, Thorpe focuses on studying the treatment of sarcoma, including improving the quality of soft tissue sarcoma resections. At UCDavis, he partnered with a bioengineering lab working with 3D models for the study of tumor formation and the development of metastasis in osteosarcoma.

Air Force experience

Inspired in part by his mother, a nurse, Thorpe went to medical school at Vanderbilt University and did his residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, followed by a fellowship in musculoskeletal oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“When I was in medical school at Vanderbilt, I did a rotation with orthopedic oncology there, and it really captivated my interest,” he says. “It’s a unique field in the way that we create multidisciplinary treatment plans aimed at developing a cure for a particular tumor, understanding its biology and disease process, while also considering the impact of the treatment on a patient’s functional and long-term outcomes.”

Thorpe is no stranger to Colorado, having graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 2003 with a degree in biochemistry before entering med school. “The Air Force Academy had a pre-med program, and my father had taught at the academy, so I thought, ‘This is the best of both worlds.’ I got to explore military service, and also look into routes to medical school, and it worked out that way.”

While at UCDavis, he served in the Air Force, fulfilling his service commitment under a special training agreement/military-civilian partnership. During that time he helped start an Air Force orthopedic residency position in the UC Davis department of orthopedics. At times was deployed overseas, including a humanitarian medical mission in Central America.

Well aligned to grow

His move to Colorado followed meeting Department of Orthopedics Chair Evalina Burger-Van der Walt, MD. “We had many great discussions, and alongside other leaders on campus, we developed a shared vision for the musculoskeletal tumor and sarcoma programs at CU,” Thorpe says. “There are really great physicians and staff at CU and I’m excited to work alongside them in the sarcoma domain. I think we’re well aligned to grow the program and expand its reach.”

In addition to noting “how wonderful it is to have the backdrop of the Rockies behind you as you work,” Thorpe says the “co-location of clinical infrastructure and research buildings makes the CU Anschutz Medical Campus an ideal place to work with the patients of today and also on research efforts that will help advance care in the future.” He also says the close proximity to Denver International Airport “helps facilitate patient access to our excellent clinical care and clinical trials for sarcoma.”

Thorpe says his work benefits from his Air Force experiences, “being able to work as a team and overcome obstacles together. I’m really thankful for the experiences, training, and mentors I’ve been blessed with along the way. I couldn’t be more thrilled to join the sarcoma team at CU and Children’s Hospital Colorado as we strive to conquer sarcoma and other musculoskeletal tumors.”

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