He was an inspirational urologist, a loyal lieutenant colonel of the Belgium army, and one of the founders of Europa Uomo, the European advocacy movement representing 27 prostate patients’ groups across Europe.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium in January 1933, Prof. Denis was a son of a Belgian docker. He grew up during the second World War and spent most of his time with his grandparents. He attended medical school at the University of Ghent, where he joined the university’s basketball team. The team won a bronze medal at the University Olympic Games held in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. He graduated from medical school in 1957, then began his residency in surgery and urology at the Antwerp City Hospitals.
After his residency, Prof. Denis received an appointment at the Medical College of Virginia in the United States where he received an National Institute of Health (NIH) Grant to join the Prostate Cancer Group. He was often invited by major American institutes such as Brady Urological Institute, Cornell University and MD Anderson to give lectures on this topic.
Prof. Denis’s military career compelled him to return to Belgium in 1964. As Chief of the Urology Antwerp Military Hospital, he was summoned to aid the Operation Red Dragon in rescuing over 700 European and American hostages in Stanleyville (former Belgian Congo). For his extraordinary accomplishments, he was awarded with several Belgian Civil honours such as Knight of the Order of Leopold (1972), Knight of the Order of the Crown (1979), and Commander of the Order of Leopold II (1991).
Prof. Denis left the army in 1973 (he retired as Lt. Colonel in 1991) to become the coordinating chairman of the Urological Department of the Antwerp City Hospitals (AZ Middelheim), and professor at the Flemish Free University of Brussels (VUB) in 1978.
In 1982, he co-founded the European School of Oncology (ESO). He was also a founding member of the Genito-Urinary Group of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), where he served as treasurer for many years and as president from 1988 to 1991. He also launched the European Journal of Cancer in London. He took different positions in the Union Internationale Contre le Cancer (UICC) between 1998 and 2006, as treasurer and Secretary General, respectively.
With the foundation of the International Prostate Health Council (IPHC), which he chaired since 1989, Prof. Denis, together with Adolf Steg, Tage Hald, Jens Altwein, Roger Kirby, Peter Boyle, Francesco Pagano and Fritz Schröder, created a think tank to increase worldwide awareness of prostate diseases. This resulted in a pan-European screening initiative that led to the inception of the European Randomized Screening Trial for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC) in 1991. The ERSPC was a landmark trial which showed that the detection of prostate cancer (PCa) in its early curable stages leads to a highly-significant reduction in PCa mortality.
Later in his urological career, Prof. Denis set up the International Consultation in Urological Diseases (ICUD) in 1996 together with Gerry Murphy and Yoshio Asa. Their aim was to establish an international strategy by consensus for the prevention, diagnosis and management of urological diseases. In 1998, he obtained an emeritus status as Professor of Urology at the VUB and became Director of the Oncology Center Antwerp (OCA).
As a PCa survivor himself, Prof. Denis focused more and more on the organisation of cancer patient coalitions, as well as, on the support and education of patients as a whole and PCa patients specifically. He was director of the patients association Wij Ook België (US TOO Belgium), and one of the founding members of the European Patient Coalition for Prostate Cancer and Europa Uomo in 2004. When he planned to step down from the Europa Uomo board, he was asked to extend his governance.
Prof. Denis felt honoured to be one of the first members of the European Association of Urology (EAU). In 2014, he received the EAU Frans Debruyne Lifetime Achievement Award for his enormous contribution to urology. He was instrumental to Europa Uomo, and for the recent PIONEER stage 2 application and evaluation process, which is a European network of excellence for big data in PCa. He became ex officio board member of Europa Uomo. During its General Assembly held on 19 June 2021, he officially resigned.
Just six weeks later he left everything and everybody for good and forever. Prof. Denis’s legacy does not only lie in his exemplary contributions to urology and notable accolades, but also with the people he helped and inspired all throughout his life. He will be dearly missed.