Meet the NWP orthopedic surgeon who specializes in cancer
July 17, 2018
July is Sarcoma Awareness Month. Dr. Philip Wirganowicz is a Northwest Permanente physician who specializes in treating these tumors.
When a teen-aged Philip Wirganowicz read about the first heart transplant from baboon to human, he knew he wanted to be a physician. In medical school, however, it wasn’t cardiology he found himself drawn to but orthopedic surgery — and to the subspecialty of orthopedic oncology, the surgical component of treating sarcomas.
He much admired the work of one of his teachers and a leader in this area, Dr. Jeff Eckardt, who in 1980 established the Musculoskeletal Oncology Service at UCLA. Eventually, Dr. Wirganowicz received a fellowship to train with Dr. Eckardt — and he’s been working in the area of orthopedic oncology ever since.
After training, Dr. Wirganowicz moved to Philadelphia and served as an academic surgeon and member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. A Northern California native, he returned to his home state in 2000 and worked to develop a Musculoskeletal Oncology Service in Oakland for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.
In 2013, he brought his expertise to Northwest Permanente, P.C., and set about establishing a similar program here. Today, as the task force leader for sarcomas, he continues to lead work in this area.
Dr. Phil — as he’s affectionately known by patients and colleagues alike — is trained to surgically remove sarcomas growing either in soft tissue or in bone. Surgery usually involves resection, or removal, of the affected area, followed by reconstruction to maximize extremity function. The reconstruction can involve bone transplants, metallic implants and joint replacements, and bone grafting.
“Historically, these tumors would be cause for amputation,” he said, “but that is no longer true.” The increased sophistication of treatment options like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy mean that most patients can safely undergo limb-sparing procedures.
Although there are circumstances under which a patient cannot be cured, Dr. Wirganowicz believes that every patient can be helped. While he acknowledges that cancer care can be discouraging when patients succumb to their disease, Dr. Wirganowicz says he gains strength from the patients he can help or cure.
devotedcians and primary-care physicians, as well as general surgeons, refer their patients to Dr. Wirganowicz when an X-ray or examination has revealed the presence of a tumor. If surgery is required, he takes the lead, collaborating with radiation and medical oncologists, radiologists, and other specialists.
While he’s foremost dedicated to his work, Dr. Wirganowicz also enjoys bicycling — in fact, he bike-commutes to his office at Sunnybrook from his home in Vancouver, Wash. He has coached teen cyclists and is helping to establish a high-school mountain-bike league in the Northwest this year as part of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association.