Obituary: Professor Ken Fearon, cancer specialist

OBIT - Ken Fearon - Cancer specialist and professor at Edinburgh University
OBIT - Ken Fearon - Cancer specialist and professor at Edinburgh University
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Professor Ken Fearon, MD, FRCS. Cancer specialist and professor at Edinburgh University. Born. 3 August 1960 in Glasgow. Died, 3 September 2016 in Edinburgh, aged 55

Professor Kenneth Fearon was an eminent and much respected physician whose opinion and research was acknowledged throughout the world of medicine. Since 1989 he had held the post of Professor of Surgical Oncology at Edinburgh University and was an Honorary Consultant Colorectal Surgeon at the Western General Hospital. He also published learned papers and books – notably on aspects of human Nutrition, Surgical Metabolism and Nutritional Oncology.

His contribution to the field of wasting disorders was exceptional. Professor John Smyth, Emeritus Professor of Oncology at Edinburgh University, said: “Ken was an exceptional surgeon: quiet, determined and intellectual. He had a powerful, inquiring mind yet was always something of a character. Ken was a magnificent teacher and his students at Edinburgh held him in great respect. He had the knack of teaching how to practise medicine – concern for the patient always being uppermost. He himself was a caring physician – a remarkably complete man.”

Kenneth Fearon attended St Aloysius’ College, the independent Jesuit school in Glasgow and read medicine at Glasgow University gaining an honours degree and winning the Brunton Medal in 1982. Contemporaries remember Fearon as an exceptional student. The following year Fearon joined the Cancer Research Clinical Research at Glasgow University under the pioneering physician, Professor Kenneth Calman. But in 1985 he decided to pursue a surgical career and submitted his MD thesis on the “Mechanisms and Treatment of Cancer Cachexia” in 1987. His postgraduate research developed into a life-long interest in the areas of cancer and the metabolic response to surgery. An area of cancer research in which Fearon became particularly renowned was cachexia – the weakness and wasting of the body due to severe chronic illness. In 2011 he helped develop a muscle-strengthening drug.

Prof Calman remembers his former pupil with great warmth, saying: “Ken was indeed an exceptional pupil. He was a man of much humanity who wanted to make things better for people. He was my pupil but he taught me a lot too. He always wanted to be a surgeon and he became a most distinguished one. It was his intellectual memory that was so impressive. We carried out cancer research which he conducted with a rigorous insight.”

In 1988, Fearon was appointed as Lecturer in Surgery at Edinburgh University and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1993 and, in 1999, Professor of Surgical Oncology. It was during these years that Fearon spent much time both in the theatre at the Western General and at the university teaching. He always found time to encourage students and provide practical advice on their careers in medicine.

Fearon addressed many eminent medical bodies. In 2011 he spoke at a Palliative Care conference at the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh and said that “systemic inflammation is one of the key features of cancer cachexia, together with muscle loss and reduced food intake.” In 2012, Fearon was again one of the principal speakers at the Royal College, when he spoke on Barrier function and implications for nutritional support, and he was a guest speaker in 2014 in Harrogate at the International Surgical Congress.

He developed a keen interest in the improvement of clinical outcomes and was a founding member of the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery Group. He served on numerous national and international committees, influencing the direction of research in cancer and palliative care through the National Cancer Research Institute. His commitment to palliative care was much encouraged by his wife,the eminent physician Professor Marie Fallon who is the St Columba’s Hospice Chair of Palliative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Consultant in Palliative Care at the Western General.

The two worked and discussed the future of the hospice movement in Scotland and devoted much time and energy to the Marie Curie Hospice in Edinburgh.Fearon was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and was presented with the Cuthbertson Medal from the Nutrition Society in 1991. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Orebro University in Sweden and was a prominent board member of the Society on Sarcopenia and a trustee of the Bowel Disease Research Foundation.

He was a devoted family man and keen golfer – he had played from his youth in Ayrshire.

Prof Calman remembers an outstanding colleague and a dedicated physician.

“Ken also had a great sense of humour. Every year the department put on a pantomime and Ken was the star of the evening. Whatever part he played Ken invariably imitated me: he was tremendous.”

He is survived by his wife, Professor Marie Fallon, and their two children.

Alasdair Steven