Umberto Veronesi was born in Milan and has always lived and worked in this city as a surgeon, researcher, man of science and culture. He graduated at the beginning of the 50s and immediately decided to dedicate his professional life to the study and treatment of cancer: after two important periods abroad (Britain and France) he began working for the National Cancer Institute in Milan as a volunteer and became General Manager in 1975.
Veronesi’s name is linked to important scientific progress recognised and appreciated worldwide and he has received six honorary degrees in international medicine (two from Argentina, one from Brazil, one from Greece, one from Belgium and one from Poland). His most significant and important work includes the invention and diffusion of conservative surgery for the treatment of breast cancer. The preliminary data were published in 1981 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and this was the beginning of the great evolution of thought which in the following years saved many women with breast cancer from mastectomy. More recently he has continued in the same direction with biopsy of the sentinel lymph node to avoid axillary dissection when the lymph nodes are healthy. In recent years he has revolutionised breast cancer radiotherapy procedures, introducing intraoperative radiotherapy which is performed in one single session during the operation itself.
Twenty years ago he opened up the way to the prevention of breast cancer with two studies on the preventive action of retinoids (derived from vitamin A) and tamoxifen, agents able to protect breast cells from the risk of carcinoma.
With the foundation of the International Melanoma Group in 1970, he stimulated research into melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer which, until a few years ago, was not widely studied by traditional medicine.
Veronesi has also been active in the promotion of medical updating. In 1982 he founded the European School of Oncology which made Italy one of the world reference points for training in the field of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
For twenty years he was Director of the National Institute for the Study and Treatment of Cancer in Milan, which he brought to levels of excellence. He then created the European Institute of Oncology, a pioneering facility at world level.
He was President of the International Union against Cancer until 1982, of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) from 1985 to 1988 and President of the Permanent Committee of Oncological Experts at the European Community, of the Federation of European Cancer Societies (FECS) from 1991 to 1993. In 1994 he was appointed President of the Committee of Cancer Experts of the Commission of the European Communities in which he promoted the “Europe against cancer” programme.
Veronesi is the author of approximately 600 scientific publications and twelve oncology treatises.
From May 1994 to April 2000 he was scientific director of the European Institute of Oncology in Milan. From April 2000 to June 2001 he was Italian Minister of Health. From 1st July 2001 he resumed his position as Scientific Director of the European Institute of Oncology.