Heikki Joensuu

ESMO National Representative in Finland

Term 2017 – 2018
Address Helsinki University Central Hospital,
Haartmaninkatu 4,
00029 Helsinki


Heikki Joensuu

Heikki Joensuu (born 1956 in Turku) is a Finnish oncologist and cancer researcher. The main topics of his clinical and translational research have been breast cancer and gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST).

Joensuu took the International Baccalaureate examination at the United World College of the Atlantic, U.K., and then studied medicine at the University of Turku, Finland, where he graduated in 1981. He became a specialist in oncology and radiation therapy in 1987 and defended his academic thesis the same year.

In 1988, he was appointed as a Lecturer in Experimental Oncology, and Lecturer in Clinical Oncology in 1990. He was appointed Professor of Oncology at the University of Helsinki in 1994 at the age of 37, and acted as the Medical Director of the Department of Oncology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, from 1995 to 2009. At present, he is an Academy Professor at the University of Helsinki, and the Research Director at the Helsinki Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

When studying drugs that inhibit the growth of blood vessels in cancerous tumours he collided with GIST for the first time. He discovered with his colleagues in 2000 that imatinib (trade name Glivec) is effective for most advanced GISTs. Imatinib was found to be the first highly effective agent for GIST, and it became the first tyrosine kinase inhibitor approved for the treatment of a solid tumour following its approval for chronic myeloid leukaemia. In 2004, Joensuu and his colleagues began to research imatinib as adjuvant treatment of GIST. Imatinib improved recurrence-free survival and possibly overall survival, and he presented the findings in the plenary session of the annual meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology in 2011. Dr. Joensuu has chaired important studies on breast cancer, the best known of these is the FinHer trial.

Heikki Joensuu is a member of ESMO and a member of the ESMO Faculty for Sarcoma.