May 04, 2022 11:00 AM

Read Time: 5 minutes

Author: Ashlee Harrison


Photo of catchment states

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (U of U) announces a formal expansion of its catchment area. In addition to Utah, it now includes Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. This historic expansion means Huntsman Cancer Institute formally takes into account the cancer burden of the entire Mountain West in development of its cancer research strategy. Huntsman Cancer Institute will serve the cancer research needs of a geographic area that encompasses 17% of the continental United States landmass, and the largest land area served by any National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer center.

The NCI requires designated cancer centers to define the areas they serve, known as catchment areas. Cancer centers must demonstrate how their research and care programs serve the needs of patients and engage with communities in the catchment area.

“Huntsman Cancer Institute has always viewed the area we serve with a deep sense of responsibility,” says Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS, executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of population health sciences at the U of U.

Photo of Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS
Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS

As the only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the region, Huntsman Cancer Institute has a long history of forging and maintaining bidirectional partnerships across state boundaries to extend its cancer expertise. It builds on work with hospitals in the region where patients receive world class cancer care closer to home. For certain complex procedures, patients travel to Huntsman Cancer Institute to receive care from the only cancer specialty hospital in the region, with many technologies unavailable elsewhere in the area. These relationships have been instrumental to Huntsman Cancer Institute’s ability to expand its offering of clinical trials, and in establishing new cancer treatment technologies, such as the only proton therapy center in the Mountain West.

“This announcement formalizes Huntsman Cancer Institute’s longstanding commitment to serve cancer patients in these states through cancer prevention, clinical trials, telemedicine, and research into improving care for cancer patients in rural areas,” says Ulrich. “It acknowledges the critical foundation built by communities, oncologists, clinics, patients, and more working together for years across state boundaries to make an impact. And now, it ensures the cancer research burden of these diverse communities will play an even greater role in the development of our research priorities and in designing new strategies to reduce the burden of cancer across the Mountain West.”

The expanded area of service includes vast rural regions, aligning with Huntsman Cancer Institute’s focus on addressing cancer prevention and care needs of people who live far from a major medical center. Huntsman Cancer Institute is dedicated to reducing health disparities in demographic groups it serves, including rural and frontier residents, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and Hispanic populations, who demonstrate poorer cancer outcomes compared to the general population.

“Although each of the five states is unique, we also have much in common—large rural areas, communities that are far from major hospitals, creative and innovative people, some of the most spectacular outdoor spaces in the world, and a willingness to work together to help our neighbors,” says Ulrich.

The expansion of Huntsman Cancer Institute’s area of service was recently approved by the NCI. “The move is historic, as it means Huntsman Cancer Institute serves more states and the largest land area of any other NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center,” says Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute. “This is a testament to our ambitious commitment to serve communities – including those that have never before had a dedicated Comprehensive Cancer Center, and our confidence that Huntsman Cancer Institute will deliver a cancer-free frontier.”

Photo of Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO
Mary Beckerle, PhD, CEO

For years, Huntsman Cancer Institute has worked to reduce the cancer burden and extend cancer care throughout the Mountain West. Community Outreach and Engagement teams provide cancer prevention education, access to screening, and connect residents to local resources, working in collaboration with community partners. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Center for Health Outcomes and Population Equity (HOPE) partners with community clinics and federally qualified health centers on prevention interventions like tobacco cessation and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. Dedicated local providers and care teams at Huntsman Cancer Institute affiliate hospitals, located throughout the catchment area, work with experts to provide high-quality specialty cancer services to patients in their own communities.

Coalitions spearheaded by Huntsman Cancer Institute bring together regional health experts and researchers to reduce cancer incidence, and the cancer center supports training of students, K–12 teachers, early-career cancer researchers, and care providers across the region.

Huntsman Cancer Institute made the decision in consultation with its External Advisory Board, made up of national cancer experts, and its Community Advisory Board, which includes representatives from health care systems, community organizations focused on the underserved, health departments, patients, elected officials, and other partners from each of the Mountain West states.

“We look forward to our continued work to extend our reach and impact,” says Ulrich. “The incredible commitment to meet the needs of cancer patients, and their families near and far has been a hallmark of Huntsman Cancer Institute since we were founded by the Jon M. and Karen Huntsman family. I have no doubt this move will position the Mountain West as a leader in cancer research benefiting rural and other underserved communities, and the insights we gain will benefit cancer patients around the world.”

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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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