Leona A. Holmberg, MD, PhD

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Professor, Division of Medical Oncology
University of Washington School of Medicine
Professor, Clinical Research Division
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Medical Oncology
“Caring for patients enriches my life; I get more from them than I think I give.”
— Dr. Holmberg
Why did you become a physician?

During my years at Harvard University, I had diverse interests, from history to different areas of science. I was brought up to be a specialist in a lot of different things, but it was really immunology (the study of how the immune system functions) that grabbed on to my imagination. After working with transplant physicians and researchers, I realized that to do the work I wanted to do, I needed to become a doctor. I went to medical school so I could learn to perform transplants and implement research about how to use immunology to cure cancer.

What’s it like to work with you?

I consider myself very lucky because I love what I do, and that joy is evident in how I care for my patients. I think they appreciate my empathy, compassion and sincerity. When you come in for a visit, I focus on explaining your diagnosis and presenting you with your treatment options so that you can think through how to move forward. There is no right or wrong answer; only you can decide how you want to live your life, and there are no guarantees that any particular therapy will work for you. My role is to give you choices and then support you in whatever path you decide to take.

Provider background

Specialty: Medical Oncology

Area of clinical practice

Adult Blood and Marrow Transplantation, Cellular Immunotherapy

Blood cancers

As a board-certified medical oncologist, I specialize in providing bone marrow transplantations to people with blood cancers. My expertise extends to immunotherapy and transplantation immunology. I divide my time between caring for patients — about five months out of the year — and conducting clinical trials, up to four or five at a time. I find trials to be fun and intellectually satisfying: If I’m correct in my speculation, and luck is with me, it’s very rewarding. My research focuses on ways to augment the immune system after an autologous transplant (where a patient’s own blood-forming cells are harvested) to prevent relapse of disease and prolong survival. In 2001, I received the first Dr. Ali Al-Johani Award, presented by Fred Hutch, which honors excellence in clinical patient care. I am also a member of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research and the SWOG Cancer Research Network.

Bone marrow The soft, spongy material in the center of your bones that produces all your blood cells, such as white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Immunotherapy A type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. A therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases. Some immunotherapies only target certain cells of the immune system. Others affect the immune system in a general way. Types of immunotherapy include cytokines, vaccines, bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) and some monoclonal antibodies. Medical oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer in adults using chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, biological therapy and targeted therapy. A medical oncologist is often the main health care provider for someone who has cancer. A medical oncologist also gives supportive care and may coordinate treatment given by other specialists. Relapse The recurrence (return) of disease after an apparent recovery.

Diseases treated

Education, experience and certifications
Undergraduate Degree
Harvard University
Medical Degree
University of Miami
University of Washington
University of Washington
Board Certification
Medical Oncology, 1991, 2016, American Board of Internal Medicine
Internship, University of Rochester


Clinical trials

We make promising new treatments available to you through studies called clinical trials led by SCCA doctors. Many of these trials at SCCA have led to FDA-approved treatments and have improved standards of care globally. Together, you and your doctor can decide if a study is right for you.


Many of our SCCA physicians conduct ongoing research to improve standards of patient care. Their work is evaluated by other physicians and selected for publication to the United States National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world. See scientific papers this SCCA provider has written.


SCCA providers are often asked to give their medical expertise for press and news publications. Read articles by or about this SCCA provider.

Your care team

At SCCA, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes doctors, a team coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.
Registered nurse (RN)
Registered nurse (RN)
Your nurse manages your care alongside your physician and assists with care procedures and treatments.
Patient care coordinator
Patient care coordinator
Your patient care coordinator works closely with you and your physician and serves as your scheduler.


SCCA accepts most national private health insurance plans as well as Medicare. We also accept Medicaid for people from Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. We are working to ensure that everyone, no matter what their financial situation, has access to the care they need.

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