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Bringing Cancer Education to American Indian Communities

Read Time: 2 minutes

Phyllis Nassi, MSW
Phyllis Nassi, MSW

Phyllis Nassi, MSW, associate director of research and science, special populations, directs the American Indian program at Huntsman Cancer Institute and recently received the 2023 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Distinguished Public Service Award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Advocacy.

“My favorite part of what I do is being boots on the ground in the community,” says Nassi. “I’ve spent a lot of time helping to change the course of what research means in the area we serve and beyond at Huntsman Cancer Institute. We’ve been able to build a reputation of trust and I have permission from Tribal Leaders to bring education about clinical trials to the reservation.”

Nassi, an enrolled member of the Otoe-Missouria Tribe and member of the Cherokee Nation, focuses on bringing cancer education to the frontier and rural locations across the Mountain West. She started at Huntsman Cancer Institute in 2001 as a manager of special populations and has served on many committees and advisory boards.

“Nassi has shown relentless commitment and cultural humility to serve as an advocate for American Indian communities across Utah and 17 other states, including Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Arizona, and Alaska,” says Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS, executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “She improves cancer awareness and survival through promotion of early detection practices, communication about the benefits of cancer research, and clinical trial enrollment. Her passion and efforts to reduce disparities and bring health equity to underserved populations makes her highly deserving of the prestigious AACR Public Service award.”

Huntsman Cancer Institute founder Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., former National Cancer Institute Director Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, and former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are just some of the previous honorees.

“It’s amazing and humbling to be part of this group, I could not have done what I do and what I love without the support of my son, Enrico, his partner, and my late husband Walter.”

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) is the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. With a legacy of innovative cancer research, groundbreaking discoveries, and world-class patient care, we are transforming the way cancer is understood, prevented, diagnosed, treated, and survived. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering a cancer-free frontier to all communities in the area we serve. We have more than 300 open clinical trials and 250 research teams studying cancer at any given time. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Our scientists are world-renowned for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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