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UT-Southwestern Named A Top-Tier Comprehensive Cancer Center

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.

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.