LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 11, 2014) — A year ago, a crowd of hundreds gathered in Pavilion A of the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital to celebrate a long-awaited special announcement – the unveiling of the UK Markey Cancer Center as the state's first and only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.
The designation was the culmination of years of tireless work by the faculty and staff of Markey and its supporting service lines and colleges – all guided by Director Dr. Mark Evers, who came to UK in 2009 with the vision of propelling Markey to NCI designation.
"Even before earning the NCI designation, we'd already taken extraordinary steps in the past few years in terms of combating cancer incidence and mortality through preventative measures, treatments and research," Evers said. "But having the support and approval of the NCI has already made a huge impact in terms of both research and our clinical care."
Patient Care at Markey
As the word spread about Markey's NCI designation, clinicians and staff experienced an increase in the patient population in almost every clinical area. In 2014, Markey saw nearly 150 more new patients over the previous year, with total patient visits increasing from roughly 75,000 last year to more than 85,000 this year – which also marks a 29 percent increase in patient visits compared to just five years ago.
In particular, Markey's outpatient clinics are growing -- the Comprehensive Breast Care Center, the Multi-Disciplinary Clinic, and the Gynecology-Oncology Clinic saw unique patient growth of 29 percent, 10 percent, and 5 percent, respectively, over the past year.
With such an increase in patient volume – and variety – Evers and his team have also stepped up recruitment, seeking out the best cancer specialists in their fields to join the Markey Cancer Center. Markey's already vast team of specialists now includes a bevy of new team members added in the past year, including four medical oncologists; three hematology and blood and marrow transplantation specialists; three surgical oncologists; two genitourinary cancer surgeons; two oral and maxillofacial surgeons; and a specialist in oncofertility, a new program starting up at the cancer center.
Recruiting strong researchers is a major aspect of earning and maintaining an NCI designation, and this year Markey landed a major established research team in metabolomics. Rick Higashi, Hunter Moseley, Teresa Fan, and Andrew Lane joined Markey last fall, bringing with them more than $18 million dollars in funding. One of the major focuses of the team's work is to develop early diagnostic approaches for lung cancer based on metabolism markers, which is especially important in Kentucky, where we own the distinction of having the worst rates of lung cancer incidence and death in the country.
Over the past two years, Markey has increased its funding from the NCI by 27 percent and from other National Institutes of Health divisions by 16 percent. Overall, since the end of calendar year 2012, Markey's total research funding from both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed sources has increased by $7.3 million.
Additionally, Markey researchers continue to push major findings out to their peers in academia – in 2014, Markey authors published 528 scientific articles, 49 more than the previous year.
Moving forward, Evers notes that his team will continue to seek out new clinician-scientists who have experience in clinical trials and early phase drug development, with the goal of significantly increasing the number of patients who participate in trials. Another emerging field of research for Markey is molecular epidemiology, the study of potential genetic and environmental risk factors for disease identified at the molecular level, which has the potential for great impact in Appalachia.
Markey's Reach Across the State
Though based in Lexington, Markey also strives to provide access to top-notch cancer care across the state and beyond through the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network. The Affiliate Network is a group of healthcare facilities that provide high-quality cancer services and programs in their communities with the support and guidance of the UK Markey Cancer Center, allowing patients to receive their care closer to home.
Currently, the network comprises nine hospitals across the state of Kentucky:
- Norton Cancer Institute, Louisville
- Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, Ashland
- Hardin Memorial Hospital, Elizabethtown
- Frankfort Regional Medical Center, Frankfort
- Georgetown Community Hospital, Georgetown
- Harrison Memorial Hospital, Cynthiana
- Appalachian Regional HealthCare (ARH), Hazard
- St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead
- Rockcastle Regional Hospital, Mt. Vernon
Since Markey earned the NCI designation, demand for new affiliations has grown. Two new ARH hospitals will be added this summer, moving Markey further into Eastern Kentucky, an underserved area known for some of the worst rates of cancer incidence and death in the country. Additionally, evaluations are under way for seven other hospitals, including two outside the state of Kentucky, extending Markey's reach further and establishing it as the destination cancer center for the region.
The Future of Cancer Care in Kentucky
Following last year's announcement of Markey's NCI designation, Evers joked with his staff that they had one day to celebrate – and the next day, they'd be back in full swing, ready to propel Markey to the next level of designation: an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently, 41 of the 68 total NCI-designated cancer centers in the country hold a comprehensive cancer center status.
To earn this top level of designation, cancer centers must show a 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. Additionally, outreach is especially important, and comprehensive cancer centers must demonstrate professional and public education and outreach capabilities, including the dissemination of clinical and public health advances in the communities it serves.
NCI designations are renewable every five years, and Evers hopes that Markey's next application will be for comprehensive status. To reach that level, Markey has a long to-do list, including increasing cancer-related funding, accruing more patients into clinical trials (including pushing these trials out into the state via the affiliate network), and maintaining and increasing focus on Appalachian Kentucky.
"Our progress in the past year has been spectacular, but we can – and should – do more," Evers said. "As the only NCI-designated cancer center in Kentucky, it's our responsibility to be the leader in cancer care and to always seek out new ways to improve rates of cancer incidence and death in the state, and to make sure that we can also offer the best possible care for our patients right here in Kentucky. Earning a comprehensive cancer center designation from the NCI will be another big step in that direction."
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