Community Hospitals Focus on Advanced Cancer Care
NCI has launched the pilot phase of its Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP), an initiative that aims to bring the latest advances in cancer care to patients where they live. The project will focus on underserved communities and groups that are disproportionately affected by the disease.
Over the next 3 years, 16 community hospitals will work together and with NCI to identify the best strategies for delivering state-of-the-art cancer care in community hospitals. A successful pilot could lead to a national network of community cancer centers that would benefit patients and researchers alike.
Yesterday, NCI Director Dr. John Niederhuber welcomed the leadership of the geographically diverse hospitals for 2 days of talks at NIH. The initiative is broad in scope, ranging from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and care for survivors.
The pilot study is intended to define the critical factors that will allow community cancer centers to provide patients with advanced care. "In the next few years, we hopefully will learn what we can accomplish and what is realistic," said Dr. Niederhuber.
NCCCP could extend the reach of NCI programs into local communities. At the same time, a national network of physicians and cancer patients could be a valuable resource for developing and testing experimental therapies.
The goals of NCCCP are to reduce cancer health disparities, increase enrollment in clinical trials, develop biospecimen resources, and evaluate electronic medical records. The project complements current NCI efforts in community cancer care, while establishing a framework for studying the topics together and in community settings.
The topics often go hand in hand. For instance, more studies are needed to learn why certain groups have an increased incidence of cancer. But it can be difficult to recruit patients for such studies if the individuals lack access to care. Expanding access in community settings could help both patients and researchers.
The 16 sites represent a cross section of the country's population, including rural and urban, and its health care systems. Each offers multidisciplinary care (medical, surgical, and radiation oncology); manages 1,000 new cancer cases each year; enrolls patients in clinical trials; and takes part in outreach to underserved populations.
Collaboration is central to the project. The sites will work with each other and with the 63 NCI-designated Cancer Centers, which are mostly based at major research universities. The Cancer Centers are the source of many innovations in cancer care, but the vast majority of patients in the U.S. are diagnosed and treated in community hospitals.
The pilot program may help researchers learn how best to conduct clinical research in the community setting and whether early-phase clinical trials can be done in community hospitals. The sites will also explore ways of sharing medical information electronically as a way to improve patient care.
The pilot study will evaluate the feasibility of implementing the "NCI Best Practices for Biospecimen Resources" guidelines in the community setting. A network of community cancer centers could potentially provide essential high-quality biospecimens for genomics and proteomics studies.
The NCI Cancer Centers program has put cancer on the leading edge of medical research and care in the United States, said Dr. Niederhuber. The challenge now is to use NCCCP to make this care available to patients wherever they live.
"The community's response to this project has been tremendous," he noted.
— Edward R. Winstead