NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
March 15, 2005 • Volume 2 / Number 11 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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History of the Cancer Center Program

Bringing Health and Hope to Us All

In this issue of the Bulletin, we celebrate the NCI Cancer Centers Program and the 60 institutions it currently funds. It's impossible to capture the program's history and spirit in 8 pages and a few thousand words, but I hope you'll come away understanding how important the Cancer Centers are in supporting NCI's mission.

It's been 35 years since the Yarborough Committee - a panel of medical and policy experts convened by the Senate committee chaired by Sen. Ralph W. Yarborough (D-Texas) - recommended that Comprehensive Cancer Centers serve as a focal point to speed progress in a new, coordinated assault on cancer. President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act 1 year later, and many of us have spent untold hours attempting to achieve the noble goal set forth in that law.

The National Cancer Act significantly altered the cancer research landscape. In particular, it changed how NCI interacts with outside research institutions, granting NCI new authorities that, in effect, have built an oncology clinical research infrastructure that supports advanced biomedical technology development and is characterized by scientific excellence.

By 1976, when I began my fellowship in urologic oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the law's early impact was already being felt: 19 Cancer Centers were designated as "comprehensive," P30 core grants were established, and the program had a budget of approximately $47 million. When I arrived at NCI 26 years later, the program had blossomed, with a P30 budget of $201 million and rising interest in achieving Cancer Center designation among medical research institutions across the country.

Now, after 3 years as NCI director, I've had the fortune to visit a number of NCI-designated Cancer Centers and I am always impressed by their talented research personnel and the unequaled services their medical and support staffs provide. Each center is unique, but all push the standard of patient care to a higher level. Some, for example, are offering robotic surgery, a minimally invasive tool that can improve the surgeon's ability to excise tumors while also reducing side effects. Others have launched survivorship centers that offer psychosocial and other support services.

I have been particularly impressed with Cancer Centers' eagerness to work more closely with NCI on initiatives. The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) is an ideal example. Most of the Cancer Centers are taking part in developing what I believe will be a revolutionary tool in accelerating the pace and efficiency of cancer research. And in May, Cancer Center directors will meet for the second year in a row to discuss with NCI leadership future opportunities and challenges for their centers in the National Cancer Program.

I have also seen how Cancer Centers affect the people and institutions around them. Whether conducting outreach to underserved minority groups, sponsoring educational courses about cancer prevention, or partnering with local biotech companies on cutting-edge research, NCI-designated Cancer Centers represent an important thread in the fabric of our nation's cancer community.

Each Cancer Center is unique, but they all share one very important attribute: compassionate staff who work diligently toward the goal of transforming this disease from one that debilitates and kills to one that can be identified early and ameliorated. Across the country, in laboratories, hospitals, and public education venues, these people are the hands, the hearts, and the minds that are fulfilling NCI's mission and bringing health and hope to all of us. My sincerest gratitude to all of our Cancer Center colleagues for the tremendous work you do every day.

Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach
Director, National Cancer Institute