May 11, 2022 11:00 AM

Read Time: 3 minutes

Author: Lisa Anderson


Photo of Phyllis Pettit Nassi, MSW, at the White House
Phyllis Pettit Nassi, MSW

When Joe Biden launched the Cancer Moonshot initiative in 2016 as vice president, he traveled to cancer centers across the country to promote the initiative’s goal of accelerating progress toward a cure. The tour included a visit to Huntsman Cancer Institute, where he met with experts to discuss strategies for advancing scientific breakthroughs and improving patient care.

Six years later, as president, Biden announced a relaunch of the Cancer Moonshot initiative at an event on February 2, 2022. He introduced new goals of decreasing cancer mortality by 50% in the next 25 years and improving the lives of people affected by cancer. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Phyllis Pettit Nassi, MSW, was among the small group of attendees, which included colleagues from cancer centers and members of Congress.

“To be present for this announcement was very exciting,” says Nassi, who believes her policy work in Washington is likely what garnered an invitation. Though the White House event was her first COVID-era visit to the city, she has continued to meet—virtually—with Washington policymakers during the pandemic.

“I’m currently working on three initiatives with the National Academies, making sure the voice of the American Indian and rural and frontier populations are included,” she says.

Through her work with the American Indian Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute, she advocates for the cancer needs of tribal members in the Mountain West. This demographic group experiences cancer disparities, the occurrence of worse health outcomes due to economic, social, cultural, environmental, and geographic disadvantages. Part of the Cancer Moonshot is aimed at addressing disparities.

“We know cancer as a disease for which there are stark inequities in access to cancer screening, diagnostics, and treatment across race, gender, region, and resources,” says a White House statement about the Moonshot. “We can ensure that every community in America—rural, urban, Tribal, and everywhere else—has access to cutting-edge cancer diagnostics, therapeutics, and clinical trials.”

Photo of Phyllis Pettit Nassi, MSW, in front of the White House
Phyllis Pettit Nassi, MSW

Much of Nassi’s work addresses these issues. She travels to tribal nations to provide education about cancer risk and prevention, with the goal of helping reduce cancer incidence in these populations through preventable measures. She supports patients both while they receive treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute and after they return home, helping them access follow-up care and basic necessities.

“We help make sure they’re getting food and other supplies,” she says. “We work with their providers back home, help them with housing and gas. We had one patient who enrolled in a clinical trial and needed to live [near Huntsman Cancer Institute] for a while, so we made sure she had the resources to stay. We just touch base with everyone and let them know we’re here.”

Nassi hopes to work on Cancer Moonshot disparities initiatives with colleagues she met at the White House. The event inspired a spirit of collaboration, she says.  

“It was wonderful to see the commitment to the project and to serving people with cancer.”

Media Contact

Heather Simonsen
Public Relations – Huntsman Cancer Institute
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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital, and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. HCI provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. HCI is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. HCI is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at HCI than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. HCI was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

Cancer touches all of us.

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