Cancer center gets coveted NCI designation

Published: Thursday, May 3, 2018 By: Sarah Terry-Cobo Source: The Journal Record

Oklahoma has achieved elite status in medical research.

Wednesday was a momentous day on which the Charles and Peggy Stephenson Cancer Center staff celebrated National Cancer Institute designation, something that only 2 percent of cancer treatment centers have accomplished. University of Oklahoma President David Boren announced the milestone in a morning news conference.

It’s been a 17-year odyssey for Oklahoma to establish a nationally recognized cancer research and treatment center. More than 125,000 residents succumbed to the state’s most-fatal disease group along the way.

The Stephenson Cancer Center has brought hundreds of millions of research dollars to the state, attracting specialized physicians and scientists from other elite institutions, and helping to diversify the economy. Oklahoma fills an important gap nationally in advancing global cancer research. Reaching and treating the high proportion of rural residents and of Native American citizens is critical to creating a representative sample, said National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Ned E. Sharpless. But doctors, researchers, community groups and policymakers statewide still face many practical and logistical challenges to lowering Oklahomans’ cancer mortality rate.

Karen Hanna, an ovarian cancer survivor, said she’s grateful to her physician who enrolled her in two clinical trials. She credits participation in the studies as to why she survived.

“In the midst of my anger and fear and hopelessness, (my doctor) said, ‘I’m going to throw everything at you I can and what works well, we’ll keep it, and what doesn’t, (we’ll keep moving),'” she said.

Sobering statistics

The state is ranked 43rd in the nation in cancer mortality. One in two men and one in three women in Oklahoma will develop cancer at some point. About 40 percent of state residents will get diagnosed, nearly 1.5 million people. About 35 percent of those diagnosed will die from the disease, more than 8,400 annually.

The four most prevalent cancer types are breast, ovarian, colorectal and lung. Other health problems compound the risk of developing cancer, said Joy Fugett, comprehensive cancer control coordinator with the Oklahoma State Department of Health. While most people are familiar with the fact that obesity increases heart disease risks, many don’t realize the cancer correlation, she said. At least 13 cancer types are directly correlated with obesity.

Oklahomans eat the least amount of fruits and vegetables in the nation and people are among the least active in the U.S.

Relatively high poverty rates, high tobacco use rates, and high obesity rates compound the problem, said Stephenson Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Mannel. Oklahoma’s higher-than-average rural population makes it tougher to reach and to treat people with the diagnosis. About 38 percent of residents

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