Remembering Stephen Sternberg, a Respected and Influential Surgical Pathologist

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Stephen Sternberg

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is sad to note the passing on May 12, 2021, of Stephen Sternberg, at the age of 100. Dr. Sternberg spent his entire career at MSK as a surgical pathologist. Widely known as a leader in the field of pathology and highly regarded for his expertise, he was also greatly respected as an editor of major national publications, which garnered him a broad, devoted following around the world.

Dr. Sternberg was educated at Colby College and NYU School of Medicine. After his residency in pathology at Charity Hospital at Tulane University in New Orleans, he became a fellow at MSK and then joined the faculty in 1951. He was a general surgical pathologist, but he developed expertise in gastrointestinal (GI) pathology and served as MSK’s subspecialty expert in GI for many years.

His research focused on the toxicity of antineoplastic agents and the carcinogenic potential of various compounds, which he studied in animal models. Because of his research on these topics, he was appointed Professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Cornell University and was widely consulted by government agencies and the World Health Organization. He also conducted pioneering work on the pathology of colorectal polyps. At MSK, he served as Chief of the Autopsy Service for 18 years and was elected President of the Medical Board and General Staff.

In 1977, Dr. Sternberg became the founding Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Surgical Pathology, a position he held for 24 years. Under his leadership, the journal became the foremost publication dedicated to surgical pathology. Its success led to a second important work that Dr. Sternberg edited, which described variations of normal histology and minor alterations in organs — the textbook Histology for Pathologists, first published in 1992 and now in its fifth edition. Dr. Sternberg also edited Sternberg’s Diagnostic Surgical Pathology, another widely read and authoritative text with numerous authors, some of whom were also MSK faculty members.

In 2000, Dr. Sternberg retired from MSK, and in 2001 he was awarded the Fred W. Stewart Award by the MSK faculty. To quote from the tribute that Marc Rosenblum wrote at the time, which was published in the American Journal of Surgical Pathology, “Colleagues and friends of Stephen Sternberg know him as a man of irrepressible humor, as an acute observer of the human condition, as a mordant satirist of all that is affected, as a martini lover (Tanqueray, straight up with a twist), dog fancier, and gardener. The practice of pathology is much the better for his contributions, as are those of us privileged to have worked with him.”

Dr. Sternberg was predeceased by his wife, Norma Wollner, who also had a long career at MSK as a beloved pediatric oncologist.

Over his decades of practice and research, Dr. Sternberg was a tremendous influence on the field of pathology, and MSK mourns the loss of a true giant in the field. MSK extends our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Sternberg’s family, his many friends, and the countless people whose lives were richer because they knew him.