August 10, 2022

Maintaining a world-class reputation

Lab testing equipment.

UW Carbone Cancer Center is proud to be Wisconsin’s only comprehensive cancer center.

It’s a distinction bestowed by the National Cancer Institute for facilities that meet rigorous high standards to optimize and advance cancer research, patient care and prevention.

“Our purpose is to be an innovative driving force, both locally and on a global scale, in research, prevention and treatment,” said Dr. Howard Bailey, director of UW Carbone. “We believe strongly in the work we have achieved so far, and we have set ambitious goals for future growth and development.”

But with this title comes a significant amount of responsibility and accountability, including a thorough review every five years by NCI. UW Carbone is one of only 53 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation.

So what does it mean to be a comprehensive cancer center?

NCI views its designated cancer centers as frontline sources of research and discovery when it comes to cancer prevention, diagnostics, and treatment. These centers dedicate significant resources to staff and infrastructure focused on cancer research. NCI has three categories:

  • Basic, which are focused primarily on benchtop laboratory research and pre-clinical translation

  • Clinical, which encompass basic laboratory research, clinical care, and prevention, cancer control, and population-based science.

  • Comprehensive, which perform the expectations of clinical cancer centers as well as place emphasis on transdisciplinary research that bridges multiple scientific areas. Community outreach and engagement of the center’s catchment area also are a significant part of operations.

UW Carbone’s roots trace back to 1973 as one of the first six university-based comprehensive cancer centers established by NCI. This designation also comes with significant funding, which is why there is a stringent review and high standard of accountability.

Dr. Lee Wilke, UW Carbone’s Senior Medical Director of Clinical Cancer Services, said preparing for such a detailed review gives Carbone members and leadership the chance to showcase and reflect on the depth and variety of collaborative efforts underway.

“One of the key pieces (of being a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center) is that it’s truly a multidisciplinary approach,” she said.

UW Carbone’s infrastructure as a comprehensive cancer center also means patients have access to a variety of clinical trials opportunities, especially first-in-human trials. Wilke said these empower patients to contribute to important research, whether it’s testing a novel therapy or refining and rethinking existing treatments.

“Clinical trials can go both ways,” she said. “It’s not always about testing something that’s new. We also test removing something that have always been done, to see if it’s unnecessary or doesn’t provide benefit.”

Wilke said with each cancer type, researchers are focused on therapies that are more targeted and personalized to a patient’s specific needs while mitigating toxicity and side effects.

Another important distinction for comprehensive cancer centers is having robust community outreach and engagement. Understanding the diverse populations within the catchment area is crucial to determining unique risk factors that come from environmental factors as well as genetic risks.

With that information, UW Carbone can take a more direct approach to research, prevention and care that meets identified trends or disparities affecting our patients.

“We’re looking at what are the risk factors for rural populations as well as populations from different ethnic backgrounds,” Wilke said. “We’re looking at what are their risk factors, the environmental exposures, as well as the genetic risks.”

UW Carbone has also emphasized growing its community relationships and outreach across the state and region as part of its latest five-year strategic plan, which identifies key areas of opportunity and advancement.

“We seek to ensure that everyone, regardless of how far they are from Madison, has access to or benefits from all of UW Carbone’s services,” Bailey said.