James R. Cunningham, MD

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James R. Cunningham, MD

James R. Cunningham, MD

  • Physician, Fred Hutch
  • Acting Instructor, Division of Medical Oncology, University of Washington School of Medicine

“I believe in supporting patients and families no matter what. Regardless of what the next scan or test reveals, whether treatment is going well or whether treatment stops, I make a commitment to be part of your care team.”

— Dr. Cunningham

What do you enjoy about practicing medicine?

I was one of those kids in high school who liked to look at blood under the microscope, and from there I followed a straight line into the health sciences. When I was first entering oncology, there was a lot about cancer that was still a mystery, and being able to witness the developments in the field firsthand has been a great reward of my career. Another reward has been the chance to guide patients through difficult health challenges while supporting their autonomy. The word “doctor” comes from the Latin word “docere,” which means to teach,  and if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s helping people understand the circumstances of their illness. The more patients know — when they’re ready to hear it — the more empowered they are to make decisions on their behalf. However, education is not unidirectional: I look to each patient to teach me about their life, their family and their perspective on their situation. My vision of the ideal patient-physician relationship is an equal partnership, where each of us learns from the other.

Tell us about an interaction with a patient that had a significant impact on you.

Early in my career, I encountered a patient whose cancer was progressing. Her doctor was trying to hurry through the visit that day, and he told her, “There’s nothing more we can do for you. Go home.” I’ll never forget those words — or the look of abandonment on the patient’s face. That moment has informed my approach to care ever since. I believe in supporting patients and families no matter what. Regardless of what the next scan or test reveals, whether treatment is going well or whether treatment stops, I make a commitment to be part of your care team.

Provider Background

Solid tumors, other cancers
I am a board-certified medical oncologist with 40 years of experience treating patients with cancer. The focus of much of my career has been providing care for people with solid tumors, such as cancers of the lung, breast and gastrointestinal system. Currently, I provide oncology care at various Fred Hutch community sites across the region. I am also a diplomat in medical oncology with the American Board of Internal Medicine and a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

In addition to working with patients, I study cancer ecology — the conditions within the body that enable cancer to take root. Applying the tools and concepts of ecology and evolutionary biology to the study of cancer can help us better understand the way a tumor relates to the surrounding tissue, blood vessels and cells. This knowledge presents opportunities for improving existing treatments and developing novel therapies.

Community Oncology
Our mission is to provide patients with the highest quality, personalized care closer to home. As part of Fred Hutch, our community oncologists offer patients multidisciplinary tumor board opinions, clinical trials and expertise in treating a variety of cancers.



Education, Experience and Certifications

Medical Degree
University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Internal Medicine

Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Hematology

Board Certification
Internal Medicine, 1981; Medical Oncology, 2016, American Board of Internal Medicine

Clinical Trials

We make promising new treatments available to you through studies called clinical trials led by Fred Hutch doctors. Many of these trials at Fred Hutch have led to FDA-approved treatments and have improved standards of care globally. Together, you and your doctor can decide if a study is right for you.

View Clinical Trials


Many of our Fred Hutch doctors conduct ongoing research to improve standards of patient care. Their work is evaluated by other doctors and selected for publication to the United States National Library of Medicine, the largest medical library in the world. See scientific papers this Fred Hutch provider has written.

View Dr. Cunningham's Publications

Your Care Team

At Fred Hutch, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes doctors, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.


Fred Hutch accepts most national private health insurance plans as well as Medicare. We also accept Medicaid for people from Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. We are working to ensure that everyone, no matter what their financial situation, has access to the care they need.

For the Media

The Media Relations team at Fred Hutch is available to assist members of the news media who would like to arrange interviews with providers.

Email media@fredhutch.org or call 206.667.2210