A Legislation Library to Benefit AACI Cancer Centers

Roy Jensen, MD

Roy A. Jensen, MD

Cancer centers are an enormous force for good and collectively have worked to lower cancer incidence and mortality rates for over four decades. In many cases, this improvement has resulted from basic science advances being translated into the clinic for the benefit of cancer patients. But in other cases, cancer centers worked diligently to prevent cancer from developing in patients in the first place. This has primarily resulted from the enactment of good public policy that limits carcinogen exposures or promotes the adoption of healthy behaviors in large populations. Such efforts can often save hundreds—if not thousands—of lives over the course of many years and represent a critical tool in our efforts to lower cancer mortality.

As a membership organization serving 98 cancer centers in the United States and Canada, the Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) has an unprecedented opportunity to exert enormous influence on public policy. I suspect nearly every AACI cancer center in our organization is working to advance at least one public policy initiative, however we haven’t been able to leverage our collective efforts for maximum impact.

At the upcoming AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting, September 30 to October 2 in Chicago, I will begin my two-year term as president of AACI. For my presidential initiative, I intend to spearhead the development of a comprehensive, cancer-specific clearinghouse of model legislation for AACI cancer centers to share with their state/province legislators.

My hope is to offer a dynamic, online library of model policies – each of which is the product of many hours of research and data collection. Using this framework, I believe AACI would be positioned to become a “one-stop shop” for cancer-related public policy. AACI will not engage in formal lobbying; however, the database will serve as a go-to source for information that AACI’s members can use to educate legislators on the issues vital to decreasing cancer incidence and mortality in their catchment area.

Read more from Dr. Jensen, CEO and director of The University of Kansas Cancer Center and AACI vice president/president-elect, in AACI’s September 2018 Commentary

Advertisements

Bench to Bedside Recap: The Academic and NCI Difference

Dr. George WeinerThe University of Kansas Cancer Center’s weekly Bench to Bedside Facebook Live video series pairs Roy Jensen, MD, director of the center, with experts on topics ranging from research to the latest developments in cancer treatment.

On Wednesday, June 6, AACI co-hosted a Bench to Bedside conversation between Dr. Jensen and George Weiner, MD, director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa and immediate past president of AACI. In the video, Drs. Jensen and Weiner discussed the unique ways academic and NCI-designated cancer centers—including HCCC and KU Cancer Center—play a lead role in influencing and improving cancer research and care.

The topic was the centerpiece of Dr. Weiner’s presidential initiative—“The Academic Difference”—during his time as AACI president from 2014 to 2016.

“Academic cancer centers are unique,” said Dr. Weiner, “in that they perform a number of roles that are vital for us in our efforts to reduce pain and suffering from cancer.”

Those roles include performing what he described as “basic cancer research to understand the fundamental nature of cancer, and, more importantly, taking that information to develop new approaches to cancer prevention, early detection, and therapy.”

Academic cancer centers are the training hubs for the vast majority of cancer clinicians, where they learn about state-of-the-art medicine. Clinicians also have more opportunities to specialize—and interact with other specialists and sub-specialists—in academic cancer centers than in stand-alone centers.

According to Dr. Weiner, this is becoming increasingly important as we learn how complex cancer is – and the unique ways each patient responds to the disease.

Roy Jensen, MD

Roy Jensen, MD

“We’re coming to realize no two cancer cases are exactly alike,” said Dr. Jensen, who is also president-elect of AACI.

In the past, Dr. Weiner acknowledged, cancers were diagnosed based on their appearance under the microscope, resulting in identical treatments for patients whose cancers may have been the same in appearance, but different in other ways. This often resulted in significant side effects.

“We now can look deeper,” Dr. Weiner added. “We can dig in to the very genetics and the genes that go haywire to cause that cancer to grow out of control, and we’ve learned that two cancers that look identical under the microscope actually can have very different genetic causes and will respond to very different, individualized treatments.”

Bench to Bedside follows news from researchers focused on the study of cancer and clinical trials, physicians, and care team members focused on patient care. Visit KU Cancer Center’s Facebook page to watch live at 10:00 a.m. Central (11:00 a.m. EST) each Wednesday and follow #BenchtoBedside on the center’s social media.

On The Hill: Cancer Center Directors, Patient Advocate Stress Need for Increased Funding

On February 11, AACI hosted an educational briefing on Capitol Hill, with support from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and in cooperation with the House Cancer Caucus. The briefing focused on educating new legislators, their staff, and Hill veterans about the importance of the nation’s cancer centers. The panelists were: AACI President George J. Weiner, MD, director, Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center; Roy A. Jensen, MD, director, The University of Kansas Cancer Center; Candace S. Johnson, PhD, president and CEO and director, Roswell Park Cancer Institute; and Averl Anderson, a patient advocate from Buffalo, New York.

GR education panel Feb 2015

AACI Capitol Hill cancer research briefing: (L-R) Cancer center directors George Weiner, Roy Jensen and Candace Johnson, with patient advocate Averl Anderson.

As the panel’s moderator, Dr. Weiner, who also serves as vice chair of AACR’s Science Policy and Government Affairs committee, highlighted the role that cancer centers play in conducting and supporting multidisciplinary cancer research; training cancer physicians and scientists; providing state-of-the-art care and disseminating information about cancer detection, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, control, palliative care, and survivorship.

Despite significant progress in combating the disease, the cancer community still faces difficult challenges, Dr. Weiner said. For example, many new ideas are going untested because of shrinking resources–the NIH budget has dropped 24 percent ($6.5 billion) since 2003, when accounting for inflation in the cost of biomedical research, and NCI’s budget has been cut 26.4 percent ($1.2 billion).

Dr. Johnson recalled the many opportunities that were available to her when she was a young scientist, but she is now concerned that stagnant funding will drive today’s budding scientists out of the field, thus impeding research progress.

“If we didn’t have these [cancer] centers it would be a loss to patients and everyone in the country,” Dr. Johnson said.

Dr. Jensen, whose center received NCI designation in 2012, also highlighted cancer centers’ role in driving research, stressing the need for predictable federal funding in order for cancer centers to make faster progress.

Ms. Anderson discussed her volunteer work with the Roswell Park Buffalo/Niagara Witness Project, a program targeting underserved women in Buffalo. In 2008 the Witness Project set a goal to recruit 200 women to acquire mammograms. Ms. Anderson was the 200th volunteer and the only one to be diagnosed with breast cancer. She said that the mammogram saved her life; she also credited the care that she received as part of a clinical trial at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Ms. Anderson urged that myths about cancer prevention and detection and the history of cancer be dispelled. In some communities, especially minority communities, cancer diagnoses are not discussed among families and friends, she said, noting that in some homes it is taboo for children to hear about aunts, uncles and parents with cancer.

“Cancer is growing. We need to grow with it and funding must grow with it,” she said.

Jennifer W. Pegher, AACI Government Relations Manager