By Michele W. Sequeira

UNM Cancer Center Renews NCI Comprehensive Designation

Elite status awarded for another five years to New Mexico’s only cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center has once again been awarded the highest designation and rating in the United States for cancer treatment and research programs.

Comprehensive designation from the National Cancer Institute recognizes the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center as one of the 51 leading cancer centers in the nation and the only such cancer center in New Mexico.

“We committed to building New Mexico’s finest, most comprehensive center for cancer prevention, research and treatment,” says Cheryl L. Willman, MD. “We have done just that once again.”

Willman led the UNM Cancer Center as director and CEO for 20 years, from initial designation in 2005 and renewals in 2010 and 2015 through this year’s effort. She assumed world-wide leadership of Mayo Clinic’s cancer programs on August 1.

“We are thrilled by this re-designation,” says Alan E. Tomkinson, PhD, interim director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “Comprehensive designation is a testament to the world-class quality of our clinical and research programs. We’re proud to be able to offer the finest cancer care to all New Mexicans.”

Comprehensive designation requires an intensive federal re-certification and designation process every five years. The rigorous process requires the submission of a nearly 1,500-page application followed by an on-site evaluation, which was conducted remotely this year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

The application included cancer patient data and outcomes for each person treated at the Center; the development and results of all cancer clinical trials that test new diagnostics and therapies; the results of all laboratory and population-based research; the status of all statewide and national outreach programs and community collaborations; the results of all workforce development and all education and training programs for cancer-trained physicians, nurses, pharmacists, scientists and others; and, the impact of the Center’s programs on its state and region, including economic development and outreach, and addressing the cancer needs and burden of the state.

Douglas Ziedonis, MD, MPH, UNM’s Executive Vice President for Health Sciences and CEO of the UNM Health System, took part in the reapplication process and the NCI’s virtual evaluation.

“We are very proud of our Cancer Center’s faculty and staff and their commitment to excellence, making a difference and helping all New Mexicans,” he says. “The basic, clinical and translational research it conducts, the people it trains, the community outreach it accomplishes and the most advanced cancer care that it offers are vital to our institution and to the people of New Mexico.”

UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius.

Its more than 120 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 600 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provide treatment to 65% of New Mexico's cancer patients from all across the state and partner with community health systems statewide to provide cancer care closer to home. They treated approximately 14,000 patients in about 100,000 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital.

A total of nearly 400 patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments that include tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing.

The more than 100 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded $35.7 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects. Since 2015, they have published nearly 1000 manuscripts, and promoting economic development, they filed 136 new patents and launched 10 new biotechnology start-up companies.

Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 500 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery.

Categories: Comprehensive Cancer Center, Top Stories