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KU Cancer Center To Persist In Quest For Prestigious ‘Comprehensive’ Designation

Andy Marso
KCUR 89.3
Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center, says the renewal of its NCI designation comes with an 11 percent bump in funding.

The director of the University of Kansas Cancer Center says it will continue to pursue “comprehensive” status after the National Cancer Institute denied it that coveted designation this week.

“We’re just going to be absolutely fearless in moving forward with this initiative,” says Dr. Roy Jensen, who has led the KU Cancer Center since 2004.

Jensen says it typically takes 10 to 15 years to attain comprehensive status, a recognition that an institution has demonstrated a high level of excellence over an extended period of time. The KU Cancer Center only received National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation in 2012 – a status that was renewed for another five years this week – so the denial of comprehensive status was not entirely unexpected.

Credit University of Kansas Medical Center
University of Kansas Medical Center
Weijing Sun recently was named director of the cancer center's division of medical oncology.

Jensen says he thinks part of the reason for the denial was that when the NCI site visit team came through, the cancer center was still looking for someone to head its division of medical oncology. The position has since been filled — Weijing Sun, who came from the University of Pittsburgh, was appointed in June.

“I think that a strong research group of medical oncologists is kind of a key part of being a comprehensive center,” Jensen says. “Probably half or more of our site visit reviewers were medical oncologists, and that’s the kind of thing they’re looking for.”

While designation as a comprehensive center would not have changed the cancer center’s approach to its patients or research, Jensen says, it’s a mark of validation that only 47 cancer centers in the country have so far received. In the bi-state region, only the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis falls into that category.

“It clearly recognizes the crème de la crème of the best cancer centers in the world,” Jensen says. “That’s what we aspire to be and that’s what we’re going to get.”

The five-year renewal of the cancer center’s current NCI designation – it’s one of 69 such institutions in the country – comes with an 11 percent funding increase. The center’s budget last year was about $1.4 million, according to Jensen, meaning it will get an extra $154,000.

NCI also approved the addition of Children’s Mercy Hospital as the cancer center’s “consortium partner.” The approval means Children’s Mercy, which provides the bulk of pediatric oncology care in the region, will get the benefits of NCI designation as well.

The two institutions began collaborating in 2015 on cancer research. The Stowers Institute for Medical Research is also a partner in the KU Cancer Center consortium, with about a third of Stowers’ investigators serving as members of the cancer center. Some of its research is now the subject of clinical trials at the center.

Jensen says the work of the consortium is particularly important as baby boomers reach the age when cancer incidence and mortality rise substantially.

“We’re looking at a 45 percent increase in both incidence and mortality,” he says. “By 2030, one out of every four people will be 65 years of age or older. And that is a prime time for being diagnosed with cancer, and that’s what’s driving these significant increases.

“We’ve really got to start implementing good public policy right now, public health measures, to try to stem this tide and not just roll over and accept this as part of doing business. There are many things we can do to make sure this doesn’t just overwhelm our health care system, which it has the potential for doing.”

Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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