The University of Kansas Cancer Center Earns National Cancer Institute’s Most Prestigious Designation: Why It Matters

July 14, 2022

Roy Jensen, MD,

By Roy Jensen, MD, Vice Chancellor and Director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center

I am thrilled to announce that The University of Kansas Cancer Center has achieved the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) most prestigious designation: Comprehensive. This designation puts KU Cancer Center in the same league as our nation’s most elite cancer centers.

Why is Comprehensive Designation Important?

The NCI Cancer Centers Program is the backbone of the nation’s cancer research effort. Most advances in cancer treatment are the result of research conducted at the 71 designated cancer centers. The 53 designated comprehensive cancer centers are “recognized for their leadership and resources, in addition to demonstrating an added depth and breadth of research, as well as substantial transdisciplinary research that bridges these scientific areas,” according to the NCI.

With this designation comes grant funding for vital research programs and shared resources, leading to a better understanding of how to treat and prevent cancer more effectively. The additional funding also helps the cancer center, as well as our consortium partners Stowers Institute for Medical Research and Children’s Mercy, grow our team of internationally renowned researchers and physician-scientists.

It’s no surprise that people treated at NCI-designated cancer centers have higher survival rates.

  • A 2009 study led by researchers at Dartmouth compared mortality rates at NCI cancer centers against non-NCI-designated centers. They found mortality at both one year and three years after a cancer diagnosis was “significantly” reduced for patients treated at NCI cancer centers. The likelihood of mortality one year post diagnosis among NCI cancer center patients was about 25% lower compared to patients at other centers.
  • In another study, researchers at City of Hope assessed care at NCI comprehensive cancer centers compared to non-comprehensive centers. They found adults with newly diagnosed cancers who were treated at a comprehensive center experienced “superior” survival compared to those treated at a non-comprehensive center. After adjusting for variables, researchers discovered a 20% to 50% increased risk of mortality for those treated at a non-comprehensive center.

Pursuing Designation

I joined KU Cancer Center in 2004, and it quickly became my mission to build an NCI-designated cancer center. In 2006, the University of Kansas made NCI designation its #1 priority. The next several years were a flurry of activity: recruiting top scientists, raising funds and building a cancer biology department.

A pivotal moment in in this journey was in 2008, when the Johnson County Education Research Triangle (JCERT) one-eighth-cent sales tax was passed. JCERT provided funding to build the KU Clinical Research Center (CRC), a one-of-a-kind phase I clinical trials facility. Since then, JCERT has provided more than $67 million to the CRC. It is essential in providing a stable infrastructure to continually earn clinical trials – a key component in the NCI designation and comprehensive application process.

In 2012, the NCI accepted our designation application, making us the only NCI-designated cancer center in the region. In the years that followed, we remained sharply focused on earning the comprehensive designation. Last fall, we submitted our 1,700-page application to the NCI, asking for designation renewal and consideration of comprehensive status.

What does comprehensive cancer center status mean to our region? If you are diagnosed with cancer, it means you can be treated at one of the best cancer centers in the country. For family and friends, it means your loved one will be cared for by the world’s leading cancer care experts with access to a broader portfolio of progressive clinical trials. If you are a civic or business leader, it means world-class cancer care in your community, a hallmark of all great cities.

At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, we are not only offering today’s standard of care, but we are creating tomorrow’s standard of care.  We thank JCERT and the entire Kansas City community for their support of this mission.