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About the Cancer Centers Program

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Partners in Advancing Research Learn how the NCI and its NCI-designated cancer centers have worked together to strengthen one another's programs and push research and patient care to new heights.

The NCI-designated cancer centers program recognizes centers around the country that meet rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. These centers put significant resources into developing research programs, faculty, and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. The NCI designation not only recognizes excellence but opens doors to greater federal funding, information sharing, and resources.

NCI’s Office of Cancer Centers manages the Cancer Centers Program.

What is an NCI-Designated Cancer Center?

NCI-designated cancer centers are institutions dedicated to research in the development of more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Most of the 68 NCI-designated cancer centers are affiliated with university medical centers, while others are freestanding centers that engage only in cancer research. Their missions typically include:

  • Cancer research that spans laboratory science, clinical research, and population-based research. The research is usually conducted by teams drawn from different disciplines within an institution, and often includes collaboration between institutions.
  • Clinical programs that offer patients the latest forms of treatment for a wide range of cancers, as well as access to clinical trials of experimental treatments. (Seven of the cancer centers conduct research only; they do not treat patients.)
  • Training for scientists, physicians, surgeons, and other professionals seeking specialized training or board certification in cancer-related disciplines.
  • Public education and outreach about cancer prevention and screening, with special attention to the needs of underserved populations.

Institutions spend several years building capacity, both in terms of research facilities and researchers, as part of the application process. They also go through a rigorous review process before being selected to be an NCI-designated cancer center. The selection is an entrée to greater federal funding; just as much, it is recognition of scientific excellence and of outstanding leadership.

Impact of NCI-Designated Cancer Centers on Their Communities

Communities are enhanced by having an NCI-designated cancer center. The NCI grant funding that accompanies the designation supports shared resources for research, provides developmental funds to advance scientific goals, and fosters cancer programs that draw investigators from different disciplines together. Certain opportunities to apply for research and other initiatives are targeted specifically to cancer centers. As part of this unique national network, centers also gain local and national prestige, and this often leads to increased interest and support from philanthropic sources, as well as the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. The institutions that house the cancer centers commit significant resources and support, as well.

Membership in the community of NCI-designated cancer centers confers a seat at the table where the strategic plans and initiatives of NCI are formed, and allows the center to represent the needs of its local community in national dialogue. This access also creates opportunities for extensive information sharing and broader scientific collaborations with other NCI centers.

All of this leads to tangible results in the labs and hospitals of the cancer center. Such a forward-looking model creates a transdisciplinary research environment where a cadre of trained scientists and practicing professionals working together helps to focus cancer research efforts and create a fertile test bed for new ways to enhance patient care. This in turn improves the prospects for recruiting highly qualified scientists and clinicians, who are also attracted to cutting-edge research and treatment programs.

Newly designated centers see changes very soon––as part of this national program their local visibility is transformed, and they inevitably find new patients at their doors in greater numbers. These patients and the community at large will benefit from access to:

  • Multidisciplinary, state of the art treatment
  • Expertise in rare cancers
  • Clinical trials and other research studies
  • Outreach, education, and cancer control programs

Many centers are located in communities with special needs and specific populations. This is an important aspect of the center’s operation. Not only does it enhance the dissemination of evidence-based findings into the community, but the experience with those patients at the center provides an important opportunity to have an impact on national research and treatment priorities.

What Types of Designation Are Awarded?

There are two types of NCI-designated cancer centers.

  • An NCI-designated cancer center must demonstrate scientific leadership, resources, and capabilities in laboratory, clinical, or population science, or some combination of these three components. It must also demonstrate reasonable depth and breadth of research in the scientific areas it chooses and transdisciplinary research across these areas.
  • An NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center must demonstrate reasonable depth and breadth of research in each of three major areas: laboratory, clinical, and population-based research, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas. In addition, a comprehensive center must also demonstrate professional and public education and outreach capabilities, including the dissemination of clinical and public health advances in the communities it serves.

Of the 68 NCI-designated cancer centers, 41 are comprehensive cancer centers.

  • Posted: August 13, 2012