University of Kentucky cancer center achieves highest designation from National Cancer Institute

The University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center has achieved the highest level of recognition from the National Cancer Institute — a status that will further bolster research and patient care in a state plagued by some of the nation’s highest cancer rates, campus officials said Friday.

State and university leaders gathered on UK’s Lexington campus to celebrate the Markey Center’s designation by the NCI as a “comprehensive” cancer center — putting it among several dozen cancer centers nationally to attain the status and the only one in Kentucky.

“We can heal more Kentuckians,” UK President Eli Capilouto said in making the announcement. “We can eradicate this insidious disease that decimates communities and extinguishes lives far too soon.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, who refers to health care as a basic human right, said the Markey Center’s latest milestone is a “really big deal” for the state. Predicting it will save additional lives, the governor said: “Everyone deserves world-class care in their own state, as close to home as humanly possible.”

“No matter their age or where they’re from, every person diagnosed with cancer is a child of God, and they deserve our very best,” Beshear said.

In addition to the new designation, the Markey Cancer Center was awarded $13.5 million through a five-year renewal of its NCI Cancer Center Support Grant to fund research programs, the university said.

To achieve the designation, cancer centers have to demonstrate added depth and breadth of research.

The Markey Center’s elevated designation will give its patients access to leading-edge treatments and clinical trials — resulting in better patient care and health outcomes, university officials said. And it puts the Markey Center in an “elite category,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, whose district includes Lexington.

“It means that we can attract the best clinicians, the best researchers, more research dollars, better clinical trials. And that means better outcomes,” the congressman said. “And boy, do we need it in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

UK said that 97% of Markey’s patients come from Kentucky. The next-closest comprehensive-designated cancer center is nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) from Lexington.

Each year, Kentucky has more than 30,000 new cancer cases and more than 10,000 cancer deaths, according to statistics provided by UK. Kentucky has the highest incidence rates for lung and bronchus and cervical cancers, while ranking second for colon and rectal cancers, it said.

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers spoke of the designation’s impact — ‘’in the faces and the people and the hearts that it would touch.” He spoke in personal terms how the designation will improve care and prolong lives, sharing how cancer has touched his family and the families of friends.

He also talked about the prestige the designation will add to the state’s flagship university.

“This is a school that will be known as a center of excellence for cancer research and giving hope for a cure to those who fight this with their family and friends and a longer life,” Stivers said.

As the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training, the NCI awards designations based on excellence in cancer treatment, diagnosis and prevention. Markey received an initial NCI designation in 2013.

Since then, Markey outpatient visits have increased by 69% and new patient volume by 75%, the university said. More than 100 new cancer researchers have been recruited to UK, while external funding to Markey researchers has more than doubled. Markey researchers currently hold more than $60.4 million in external funding, more than 70% from the National Institutes of Health, including the NCI.