Dr. Thompson is co-director of the SCCA Melanoma Clinic and widely respected as a leading medical oncologist who has developed better approaches to diagnosing and treating melanoma and kidney cancer.
Providing top quality care with a positive attitude.
Immunotherapy; activated lymphocytes and cytokines; melanoma; kidney cancer
- Director, Phase I Clinical Trials Program, SCCA
- Co-Director, Melanoma Clinic, SCCA
- Professor, Medical Oncology Division, UW School of Medicine
- Member, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
- University of Alabama, 1979
- Internship and residency: University of Washington, Internal Medicine, 1979-1982
- Fellowship: University of Washington, Oncology, 1982-1985
John Thompson grew up in Alabama. While still in high school he began to see medicine as an inspiring profession. “Once I reached college, I became seriously interested in becoming a doctor,” says Dr. Thompson. He followed his University of Alabama medical degree with a residency at University of Washington Medical Center, finishing up as chief resident at Providence Medical Center.
“I became interested in medical oncology during my internal medicine residency,” he says. “I was inspired by the work of oncologists and the science of cancer and treatment.” His UW Medical Center fellowship in medical oncology helped Dr. Thompson develop the level of expertise his patients benefit from today.
He is respected as an exceptional medical oncologist and has accomplished a great deal while working hard at his overall professional goal: to develop better approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma and kidney cancer. He is passionately committed to providing leading-edge care to his patients at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Dr. Thompson’s high school inspiration came from reading an article on bone marrow transplants by the now renowned Dr. E. Donnall Thomas. “I began to see medicine as a fascinating field,” he recalls. Dr. Thomas’s success in treating patients with leukemia and other blood diseases with bone marrow transplantation is considered one of the most important advances in cancer treatment during the last quarter century. His perseverance, his pioneering team, and the vision of Seattle surgeon Dr. William Hutchinson, collectively gave rise to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1975.
It’s all about his patients
Dr. Thompson is very clear about his clinical goals. “My major goals with patients are to assist in establishing a clear diagnosis, educate them about the natural history of melanoma as it affects them, and develop a treatment plan based on good science that is agreeable to my patients.”
Cancer is a very tough disease. In many ways, cancer treatment can take over the lives of patients and their families. Life as they know it must make room for treatment appointments, trips to the lab, pain management, and simply coping with a life-threatening illness.
Dr. Thompson is deeply moved by his patients’ courage during this period in their lives. “They often have to fight a long and painful battle and they do it with determination and dignity,” he says. “They usually don’t give up.” He has seen many situations where a positive attitude and sense of humor have helped his patients and families feel hopeful and less stressed by this incredibly difficult experience.
Learning, listening and being part of the team
Educating oneself about an illness can be daunting. Sorting through all the available cancer information takes patience and time. One of Dr. Thompson’s roles as an oncology specialist is helping his patients and their families understand the flood of unfiltered information in the news and on the Internet that can easily overload them.
“I help them sift through the data and find what’s useful,” he says. Patients often feel relieved when they can narrow down their information base, let that part of treatment rest a while, and spend more time and energy taking care of themselves, he says.
Dr. Thompson says he doesn’t do his job in isolation. He relies on his team of nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, social workers, registered dietitians, and other cancer specialists. “Doctors can’t answer all phone calls in real time, so the notion of teamwork becomes very important where patients are concerned,” says Dr. Thompson.
Often, his primary nurse, Jon Smith, a registered nurse, helps patients sift through their concerns to decide which are critical and which can wait until the next visit. Dr. Thompson also has some non-medical, practical advice for his patients: “People are very mobile these days. Having a way to get back to our patients when they call is very important. We need to know a patient’s phone number and other contact people to help us reach them."
An expert physician, a caring human being
Dr. Thompson and Jon Smith have worked together for 15 years. They know each other’s strengths, abilities, and styles of care. Smith has only good things to say about Dr. Thompson: “The bottom line is that John Thompson cares about his patients. Melanoma can be a difficult and frustrating cancer to treat and it is difficult at times to maintain hope while fighting it.
“Dr. Thompson treats each patient as a unique individual, maintaining a positive approach. He never gives up on his patients and strongly supports their hope of finding an effective treatment for their melanoma. Even if treatments are not available, the welfare of his patients and their quality of life is still his top priority. He shares elation with his patients in their successes and grieves with his patients and their families when treatments are not successful. He approaches his profession not only as a physician but also as a caring human being.”
The Melanoma Clinic
Dr. Thompson and Dr. David Byrd, a UW Medical Center surgeon who sees patients at SCCA, co-direct SCCA’s joint, multidisciplinary Melanoma Clinic on Tuesdays. The clinic’s structure allows patients to see Dr. Thompson, Dr. Byrd, and Dr. Raymond Yeung, another UW Medical Center surgeon, in one visit, rather than returning for a follow-up visit.
Patients get a lot of information on this day. It is helpful for patients to write down their questions before their clinic appointment and for all their appointments after that. “That way we can deal with issues or questions face-to-face,” says Dr. Thompson. Taking notes, or bringing along someone to take notes, can also be very helpful.
“An attractive feature of working at SCCA is my ability to have dual careers,” Dr. Thompson says. “I have the thrill of discovery and can see the significance of our work when I see it as part of treatment. Our research creates hope and possibility.”
He and Dr. Byrd lead clinical research efforts focusing on novel therapies such as cancer immunotherapy, specially activated lymphocytes and cytokines, and the use of stem cell transplants for kidney cancer and melanoma. “Cytokines are molecules that stimulate a person’s immune system to harness his or her immune cells to fight cancer,” explains Dr. Thompson. One goal is to find faster, better ways to isolate and grow tumor-specific T cells and to develop ways to get rid of tumors without increasing side effects.
T cell and cytokines investigations, as well as earlier work with gene therapy, are subjects of the more than 100 scientific articles Dr. Thompson has authored or co-authored on cancer treatment. He has also written 10 book chapters, and reviews of state-of-the-art research and cancer treatment.
Affiliations and representation
Dr. Thompson is active on many boards, committees, and professional associations that represent melanoma patients. His work at SCCA and his participation in outside organizations helps shape the course of innovative cancer treatment.
A short list of his professional participation includes the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, American Joint Committee on Cancer, the Cytokine Working Group, the American Association for Cancer Research, and the Southwest Oncology Group. He is also past president of the Washington State Medical Oncology Society, and on the medical advisory board of the National Kidney Cancer Association.
When not busy with research, patient care or professional meetings, Dr. Thompson sometimes gets in a round of golf. But a good deal of his time off is family time, often spent cheering for his children at their soccer and baseball games. Dr. Thompson and his wife are raising three teenagers—a high school senior, a sophomore, and a sixth-grader.
As they engage in team sports, Dr. Thompson’s children are developing some of those same skills and values he uses in his work that inspire others: pay attention to your teammates, work your hardest, and share the lessons of losing and the sweet success when your team wins.