UK cancer center gets top U.S. designation, shared by 55 others

Kentucky Health News

The University of Kentucky’s cancer center has received the highest designation from the National Cancer Institute, making it the first such center in Kentucky, it announced Friday. The United States has 56.

In 2013, the Markey Cancer Center received its initial NCI designation, held by 72 centers in the nation. It worked for a decade to get the higher designation, based on research, treatment, diagnosis and prevention.

“It’s really the gold standard of clinical care, research and community outreach,” said Dr. Mark Evers, who has been director of the center since 2009, when the university started trying for NCI designation.

UK President Eli Capilouto said, “To truly be the University for Kentucky, we raised the stakes and decided that UK will continue to be a leader in cancer research by becoming a comprehensive cancer center.”

That required hundreds of millions of dollars in investment from UK and the state legislature, which put in $135 million in 2013 and another $20 million this year, state Senate President Robert Stivers said.

Kentucky has the nation’s third highest rate of death from cancer, behind West Virginia and Mississippi, and cancer is the state’s second most common cause of death, next to heart disease.

The closest comprehensive cancer center to Lexington is nearly 200 miles away, a UK press release noted without mentioning the one at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, which competes with UK for patients living in Western Kentucky. Indiana University has a comprehensive cancer center in Indianapolis.

“The elevation to an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center will further enhance Markey’s ability to attract top-tier researchers and clinicians, secure additional research funding, collaborate with national and international partners, and give patients access to leading-edge treatments and clinical trials – resulting in better patient care and health outcomes for Kentuckians,” the release said. “Numerous studies show that patients treated at NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Centers have better survival and recovery rates.”

In addition to the comprehensive designation, NCI awarded the center $13.5 million through a five-year renewal of its grant for research programs, shared equipment and resources.

Since 2013, more than 100 cancer researchers have been recruited to UK and external funding to Markey researchers has more than doubled, the release said. Markey’s outpatient visits have increased by 69% and the number of new patients has gone up 75%.

The center’s growth prompted UK to start work on a new treatment center and advanced ambulatory complex that will bring Markey’s outpatient services under one roof. It is expected to open in 2027.

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