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Backgrounder

NCI-designated Cancer Centers: dedicated to research

  • Updated: August 7, 2013

The National Cancer Institute came into being in 1937, and in the years following became the first disease-focused institute of the National Institutes of Health. Yet, what is widely considered the modern history of the NCI began with Congressional passage and Presidential signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971. Among its many provisions, the cancer act authorized creation of a national network of centers “for clinical research, training, and demonstration of advanced diagnostic and treatment methods relating to cancer.”

With the July 2013 announcement that the University of Kentucky had attained NCI designation, that network today encompasses 68 cancer centers in 35 states plus the District of Columbia. Every state with a density of more than 150 people per square mile contains at least one NCI-designated Cancer Center.

Obtaining an NCI designation for a cancer center is usually a years-long process of building — facilities, faculty, and most importantly, a research portfolio — culminated by a rigorous review process. Selection by NCI provides recognition of research excellence and of outstanding leadership, along with new avenues for federal funding. Each center receives general support from the NCI, in addition to individual grants earned by its doctors and scientists following extensive review by their peers.

At their core, what all of the centers share is a deep dedication to research. NCI-designated Cancer Centers are the primary source in the United States of new discoveries into cancer’s causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. They are home to researchers conducting studies into cancer’s most basic biology: molecules and cells, pathways and physical processes. Many also participate in team scientific projects, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas, an effort to comprehensively characterize the genetic changes in 20 types of cancer.

Just about a year ago, NCI’s Office of Public Affairs and Research Communications began an experiment: a daily update of research results from NCI-designated Cancer Centers and their affiliated universities. Those updates, which are now a fixture of the cancer.gov website, highlight scientific findings published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at major scientific meetings. They now total more than 450 news items. Because of the prominence and importance of this research, you now find NCI-designated Cancer Center news in this separate section on the revised NCI News Center.

NCI-designated Cancer Centers are, indeed, institutions dedicated to science — and frequently, as well, to patient care — in the development of more effective approaches to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. They are often treatment centers, which offer patients the latest therapies for a wide range of cancers, in addition to access to clinical trials. Cancer Centers are also institutions that help train the next generation of scientists, physicians, surgeons, and other vital biomedical professionals.

Cancer Centers are divided into two categories. Twenty-six are known as NCI-designated Cancer Centers. These facilities demonstrate scientific leadership, resources, and capabilities in laboratory, clinical, or population science—or some combination of the three. Seven NCI-designated Cancer Centers conduct only basic research and offer no clinical programs.

The 41 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers must demonstrate depth and breadth of research in laboratory, clinical, and population science, and they must demonstrate professional and public education and outreach capabilities, including the dissemination of clinical and public health advances in the communities they serve. They deliver up-to-date care to patients and their families, inform healthcare professionals and the general public, and offer the potential to reach many diverse, and often underserved and understudied, patient populations.

Of the thousands of facilities nationwide where a person can choose to be treated for cancer, NCI’s designated Cancer Centers clearly have established a research and clinical base that is exceptional. Patients should also be reassured by the fact that these centers are evaluated at least every five years, ensuring that only those facilities that meet NCI’s stringent standards will continue to be designated centers.

This text may be reproduced or reused freely. Please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source. Any graphics may be owned by the artist or publisher who created them, and permission may be needed for their reuse.