NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers

NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers: Why they matter

National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer CentersThe Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center. The NCI awards this highest-level designation only to institutions that make ongoing, significant advances in cancer research, treatment, and education. Masonic Cancer Center is part of a 50-member group of cancer centers in the United States to hold the comprehensive designation, and the only one in the greater Twin Cities region.

This article describes the role of comprehensive cancer centers in the United States and the Masonic Cancer Center's particular purpose of reducing the burden of cancer in Minnesota. 

Cancer Centers Branch Office of Centers, Training, and Resources

National Cancer Institute

By Linda A. Weiss, Ph.D., Chief

Despite advances in prevention, diagnosis, detection and treatment, cancer continues to cause pain and suffering for patients and their families and exerts a tremendous toll on healthcare and economic systems. While the public's investment in collaborative, multidisciplinary cancer research and research infrastructure has yielded significant progress in our understanding of cancer, an ongoing commitment to future research is necessary if we are to maintain momentum.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) advances these efforts largely through its cancer centers, which are the principal sites for integrated research activities. NCI-designated cancer centers provide a setting in which common scientific goals, a collaborative work environment and shared resources synergize cancer investigation.

The NCI has a long history of supporting centers with strong cancer research. As early as 1967, the NCI was providing funding to eight cancer centers for enhancement of facilities and research.

Today, there are 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in 34 states. These centers have become the major platform for moving fundamental discoveries in cancer from the laboratory to applications in people, and they are the focal point for cancer researchers, patients, healthcare providers, congress, the media and the general public.

The NCI recognizes different types of cancer research centers, ranging from centers specializing solely in laboratory science to centers with a broad range of research and patient services. In every case, a center must meet stringent requirements to attain the NCI designation. Competitive centers must demonstrate to scientific peer reviewers during an intensive review process that they have a critical mass of high quality, collaborative research; strong institutional support; a highly qualified director; appropriate facilities; and the capacity to fulfill the cancer center's research objectives.

Of the 69 NCI-designated cancer centers, only 49, including the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, have earned the additional NCI designation for comprehensiveness. Comprehensive cancer centers (CCCs) meet specific standards for breadth and depth in research and serve as models for moving research discoveries, treatments, and information from the research setting to patients and the general public.

CCCs take a leadership role in developing new approaches and strategies for addressing the cancer problem. They deliver scientific and medical advances to cancer patients, their families and the general public, including underserved populations. CCCs also educate healthcare professionals working in a variety of settings, thereby sharing the latest medical and scientific advances with the broader public.

NCI provides funding to CCCs to foster interactions between basic laboratory, clinical and population scientists and to support researchers' access to critical services and technologies.

At Masonic Cancer Center, examples of cancer research infrastructure supported by NCI funds include analytical biochemistry, clinical pharmacology, clinical trials office, comparative pathology, flow cytometry, and translational therapy. These are but a few of the resources that support multiple research programs focused on basic laboratory, clinical, and cancer prevention and control research.

The prestige and research power of the NCI-designation help cancer centers obtain additional financial support from other funding sources. NCI-designated cancer centers are able to recruit premier cancer researchers and influence the cancer research agenda worldwide through participation in national and international meetings and advisory boards.

The Masonic Cancer Center first received NCI comprehensive designation in 1998. It was rated "excellent" at its latest peer review in 2008 based on institutional commitment; continuity of leadership and vision; alignment of clinical care and research; and evidence of collaborative, cancer-focused research. It also has a strong track of notable research accomplishments and publications in high quality peer-reviewed journals that have a major impact on standards of care and future research directions.

As we move forward, we anticipate greater emphasis in the NCI Cancer Centers Program on cancer health disparities, and on broader integration of research across cancer centers and broader dissemination of research results.

Through such efforts, NCI-designated cancer centers such as the Masonic Cancer Center are reducing our nation's burden of cancer. Simply stated, they are the primary source of new discoveries into cancer's causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment, and they are the primary conduit for delivering these advances to patients and their families, to healthcare professionals, to the general public and to the underserved.

For more information about the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota call 612-624-2620 or visit

A version of this article appeared originally in Frontiers magazine, a publication of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.