Fight CRC honors Dennis Ahnen with 2020 Andrew Giusti Memorial Award
Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) has named Dr. Dennis Ahnen, Associate Professor Emeritus at the Colorado University Cancer Center, as the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Andrew Giusti Memorial Award. Each year this award is given to an outstanding advocate of medical, health, and scientific research. The award was established to honor advocates who have shown exceptional leadership in advancing our nation’s commitment to colorectal cancer research.
A world leader in colorectal cancer prevention and control, Dr. Ahnen joined the National Colorectal Cancer Round Table (NCCRT) in 2009 as co-chair of the Family History Task Force and stepped up to the NCCRT Steering Committee in 2014 where he has been a catalyst for change in early-age onset colorectal cancer (CRC) understanding and prevention.
Known affectionately as the Rear Admiral by his many friends in the CRC community, Dr. Ahnen held a faculty position at The Department of Veterans Affairs Eastern Colorado Health Care System for over 30 years. In 2016, he retired from the University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty as Professor of Medicine and was appointed Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado School of Medicine the following year. After his retirement, Dr. Ahnen joined the staff of Gastroenterology of the Rockies in to help oversee their Genetics Program.
Renowned for taking an active research leadership role, Dr. Ahnen recalls the moment, as a Gastroenterology Fellow in his 30s, when he encouraged his lab partner to ‘provide a baseline normal’ colonoscopy for their CRC pioneering research work. The inevitable ‘reciprocal procedure’ resulted in the discovery of an advanced adenoma in young Dr. Ahnen’s colon, which would have almost certainly developed to become early-age onset colorectal cancer, further affirming his deep personal commitment to lead advances in early detection.
Dr. Ahnen describes advocating for CRC policy goals on Capitol Hill as one of the most impactful experiences of his life, becoming a committed spokesperson for the power of the unified survivor and provider voice.
“An individual with passion can make a difference. But with real teamwork, we can make a huge difference,” he said in his typically modest and unassuming manner. “The experience of a survivor is so different to that of a provider. It takes strength and guts go through chemo and sharing that story with lawmakers is crucial to seeing our ideas and effort come to fruition.”
Dr. Ahnen has been a mobilizing force within his home state of Colorado, helping to guide the Colorado Cancer Screening Program, a program of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, and connecting medical and survivor communities behind a meaningful Colorado Cancer Coalition agenda to improve screening rates and CRC legislation.
Andrea (Andi) Dwyer, Fight CRC’s Advisor for Research and Patient Education and a long-term colleague of Dr. Ahnen, who she describes as a friend and mentor, said: “Dennis holds a special place in the colorectal cancer community and his contribution extends far beyond his skills as a clinician, scientist, and leader. There is no more worthy recipient of this year’s award.”
In 2019, Dr. Ahnen was diagnosed with metastatic appendix cancer (which he stresses was outside of the parameters of his routine CRC screening protocols) in 2019. He remains a fierce advocate for preventive colorectal cancer screening, brandishing the words ‘strength’ and ‘hope’ on bands around his wrist, a fitting character portrayal of one of the Colorectal Cancer community’s finest leaders and best loved advocates.
Rear-Admiral Ahnen. The Colorectal Cancer Community salutes you.