June 2019 Magazine

UAMS Seeking National Cancer Institute Designation


Cam Patterson, M.D., M.B.A

Over the last 20 years, cancer deaths in the United States have decreased by five percent. Unfortunately, in Arkansas, over that same time period, cancer deaths have actually increased by nine percent. We must do something about these outcomes, and we must address problems like the epidemic of prostate and colorectal cancer in men living in southeastern Arkansas and other adverse cancer outcomes in our state. This is why the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is seeking National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation for our Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. There are currently only 70 NCI-designated cancer centers in the United States, none in Arkansas.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 44 Arkansans are diagnosed every day with cancer, and 6,900 will die from cancer this year alone. For 30 years, the UAMS Cancer Institute has provided research-driven cancer care for patients from every state and more than 50 countries. Each year, patient visits to the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute total more than 150,000. More than 15,000 cancer patients from all of our state’s 75 counties seek treatment at UAMS Cancer Institute each year. 

Having an NCI-designated cancer center will save lives by giving Arkansas cancer patients access to clinical trials and new therapies not currently available in our state. NCI-designation will also make prevention, screening, education, navigation and treatment programs more widespread. NCI-designation will also have an estimated annual economic impact of $72 million on our state and create nearly 1,600 jobs in the first five years

The Arkansas General Assembly and Governor Asa Hutchinson realize the importance of NCI Designation for the UAMS Cancer Institute. For that reason, they committed during the most recent legislative session to provide at least $10 million in annual state support for our quest for NCI-designation. That funding support will begin this July. We are humbled by the faith that our state’s leaders have placed in us.  This funding is exactly what we were hoping for, but we truly never imagined that it would happen so quickly. 

The visionary leadership of our governor and general assembly puts us many miles down the road on our march for NCI-designation and becoming the first NCI-designated cancer center in the state. We are fortunate in Arkansas to have state leaders who understand how this will save and improve lives. They understand how much better it will be both emotionally and financially for Arkansas patients to have access to the latest cancer therapies at home where they can be surrounded by family and friends instead of traveling hundreds of miles away to an unfamiliar location for treatment.

No one is going to come into our state and solve this problem for us. It is essential for us to form partnerships among health care providers and other entities across the state, coming together to hold hands and make an impact on cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship.

With this designation, UAMS will be eligible to receive more money from federally-funded research grants. Nearly 70 percent of NCI funding goes to scientists at NCI-designated centers.

According to published data, patients treated at an NCI-designated center for lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer have a 25 percent greater chance of survival within the first year after diagnosis. Achieving NCI-designation is a lengthy process that will take a lot of work as well as state, community and donor support, but we know it is worth it.

As the state’s only health sciences university and academic medical center, UAMS is a statewide entity with employees living and working in 73 of Arkansas’ 75 counties. We have campuses in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas as well as other regional sites across the state, mostly in rural and underserved areas. We have agreements with almost every hospital and many clinics across the state. Our reach across Arkansas allows us to better perform our tripartite mission of training tomorrow’s health care professionals, providing highly subspecialized care often unavailable anywhere else in Arkansas and translating knowledge into new therapies through research. UAMS’ tagline is “for a better state of health” and that is the focus of our quest for NCI- designation and everything that we do.


Cam Patterson, M.D., M.B.A, serves as chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). A renowned cardiologist and
health care administrator, he became chancellor June 1, 2018. 

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