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Celebrating the Life of Dennis Ahnen, MD, Gastroenterologist, Researcher, and Advocate in the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

Celebrating the Life of Dennis Ahnen, MD, Gastroenterologist, Researcher, and Advocate in the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

It is with great sadness that we share that Dennis Ahnen, MD, a visionary leader in relentless pursuit of our shared goal to save lives from colorectal cancer, died at home surrounded by his family on August 16, 2020. In addition to his many contributions as a renowned gastroenterologist, researcher, and advocate, Dr. Ahnen was an enduring contributor to the NCCRT for many years. He was also a generous and genuine friend to so many of us.

Dr. Ahnen served as the co-chair of the NCCRT Family History and Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Task Group from 2012, spearheading the group’s expansion from a focus on family history to include early age onset disease in 2016. He played a leadership role in convening a full day Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Summit in December 2017, which helped define key research questions and action steps to guide NCCRT partners in addressing the emerging trends. Dr. Ahnen also served as an NCCRT Steering Committee member from 2014 to 2018, contributing much to the NCCRT’s first unified effort to reach or exceed 80% colorectal cancer screening rates nationwide, 80% by 2018, and later to our current 80% in Every Community campaign. He generously devoted his time and expertise to countless NCCRT publications, resources, and trainings, including leading a systematic review on what we know and don’t know about family history and colorectal cancer; conducting a major survey of GIs, primary care providers and geneticists to determine what clinicians should be collecting about a patient’s family history in their EHRs; and leading development of a cutting edge module for clinicians to help them improve their processes around family history collection and the actions that family history should trigger.   

Dennis was a natural leader who radiated a very genuine warmth, fun, optimism, and curiosity. His curiosity helped the rest of us see things that we wouldn’t normally see, coupled with a unique ability to explain his vision in an accessible way that very gently brought the rest of us along to solutions that have saved and will ultimately save many lives.   

Dr. Richard Wender, NCCRT chair, shared his reflections on Dr. Ahnen and his lasting contributions to our shared work: “There is no shortage of incredible leaders in the national effort to increase colorectal cancer screening, but Dennis’ passion and commitment to the cause were truly exceptional. To honor his legacy, I’m pleased to announce that this year we are honoring Dr. Ahnen with the Roundtable’s Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. We were able to share the news with Dennis and his wife Carol a few weeks ago and he was truly touched. We hope you’ll join us at the 2020 80% in Every Community Conference and Annual Meeting of our membership to learn more about his work and celebrate his life. His legacy lives on in our work and his memory will further inspire our commitment to saving lives from this disease for years to come. We will all miss him very much.”

Dr. Ahnen’s contributions in his career as a clinician, researcher, and advocate are innumerable, leading him to receive additional high honors in his field, including the American Gastroenterological Association William Beaumont Prize, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Collaborative Group of the Americas on Inherited Gastrointestinal Cancers, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Laurel Award for National Leadership.

Please join us in expressing our sincere condolences to Dr. Ahnen’s family. Visit his memorial webpage to learn more about Dr. Ahnen’s many contributions and to leave your own tribute message. The site will be updated soon to include information about how to participate in his Celebration of Life on Saturday October 3rd at 3PM Mountain Standard Time


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