American Cancer Society to hire Karen Knudsen as its first female CEO

The American Cancer Society is set to hire its first female CEO.

The Atlanta-based nonprofit said Monday that Karen E. Knudsen will take over as chief executive of ACS and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, starting June 1. She succeeds Gary Reedy, who has served as both organizations’ CEO since 2015. Reedy, 64, announced his retirement last August. His last day is April 27.

ACS said hiring Knudsen “signals a new era” for the 107-year-old organization that helped put Atlanta on the national healthcare stage when it moved its headquarters here from New York City in 1989. All of its past top leaders were men, even though its Women’s Field Army is credited for building the modern American Cancer Society, a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.

Knudsen is executive vice president of Oncology Services and enterprise director for Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health. She is president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes, where she is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. She also serves on the board of directors for the American Association of Cancer Research and the board of advisors for the National Cancer Institute.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the George Washington University, a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of San Diego and an MBA from Temple University Fox School of Business. 

ACS said Knudsen is the first scientific and oncology researcher to serve in the top staff position in the modern era. 

“Dr. Knudsen is exactly what the American Cancer Society needs right now,” said John Alfonso, chair of the ACS Board of Directors, in a news release. “She is an accomplished researcher, innovative healthcare executive, dynamic leader of a prestigious cancer center, and true thought leader in the fight against cancer nationwide.” 

Knudsen said her initial focus will be listening to and learning from the various ACS stakeholders, but she’s also eager to work with volunteers and staff.  

“I share the Board of Directors’ vision to ensure that ACS’s impact benefits all people throughout the nation,” she said in the release. “With creativity, innovation, and novel partnerships, we will accelerate the mission and save lives.” 

ACS is Atlanta’s third-largest nonprofit, with more than $830 million gross revenues in 2019. It has about 500 full-time Atlanta employees and maintains its downtown headquarters at 250 Williams St.

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