UT-Southwestern Named A Top-Tier Comprehensive Cancer Center

It’s a designation from the federal government’s main agency for cancer research – the gold standard for cancer treatment.

By Eric AasenJuly 10, 2015 10:33 am

This story originally appeared on KERA North Texas.

There’s some big news coming out Friday from UT-Southwestern Medical Center: It’s been named a comprehensive cancer center.

The designation comes from the federal government’s main agency for cancer research – it’s the gold standard for places that treat cancer patients.

Some might consider this the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for cancer centers.

But it’s more than that – for both the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and for patients.

The designation means attracting more scientists to North Texas who will study cancer – and they’ll get more funding for their research, says Dr. Daniel Podolsky, UT-Southwestern president.

“It means that patients coming to UT-Southwestern, often with some of the most difficult forms of cancer, or in particularly complicated circumstances,  will have access to not only what is cutting edge today, but clinical trials, access to the next generation of intervention, new drugs, new treatments,” he said.

In the league of MD Anderson and Mayo Clinic

UT-Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center now joins 44 other facilities with this top designation, such as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

MD Anderson in Houston has long been the only comprehensive cancer center in Texas.

The comprehensive designation means North Texas cancer patients can stay closer to home to get top-tier treatment, Podolsky says.

“If you’re living here in North Texas, right in your backyard, you are going to find an institution of a caliber and capability that matches those across the country,” he said.

UT-Southwestern is also getting a grant of about $8 million to support its center.

More prestige, more patients, more funding

This comprehensive label comes from the National Cancer Institute.

Government officials say the designation means more publicity for cancer centers, more prestige – and more money.

It could also mean more patients.

That pleases Dr. Jim Willson. He’s director of the Simmons Cancer Center.

Getting the comprehensive status has been his goal for 10 years.

“Not only has UT-Southwestern made a concerted effort to recruit cancer experts, we’ve built new facilities to accommodate the research programs’ growth and to provide wonderful care opportunities for our patients and their families,” he said.

Unraveling mystery of liver cancer

UT-Southwestern scientists study all sorts of cancer. They see an opportunity to focus on liver cancer. The number of North Texas cases is surging, Willson says.

“We don’t fully understand why and the first step is to understand what’s driving this cancer,” he said. “And then, second, because it’s been so difficult to treat, to bring together a nationally prominent expert group recruited into UT-Southwestern to work to unravel the mystery of why this cancer is growing so frequently and second how to attack it more effectively.”

Thanks to its new comprehensive center status, Willson hopes Dallas might one day be home to the next big liver cancer breakthrough.

Audio for the story will be published shortly.