If you’re a cancer patient or caregiver, you’ve no doubt heard of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). You may have visited their Web site to learn about a cancer-related topic. But you probably don’t know everything the NCI does to fight cancer.
As part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the NCI is charged with the mission to conduct and support cancer research and help people live longer, healthier lives. The NCI also helps educate cancer professionals, patients, and caregivers. Through these efforts, the NCI benefits cancer patients directly and indirectly.
NCI-supported research helps cancer patients in many ways. Cutting-edge treatments are available to some patients through clinical trials, and many established cancer treatments are the result of previous NCI-funded research.
The NCI funds more cancer research than any organization in the world. Some of this research takes place in the NCI’s own laboratories at the Center for Cancer Research in Maryland. The NCI supports other research projects through grants to universities, hospitals, private industry, and research foundations.
A key feature of the NCI’s research initiatives is collaboration between institutions, especially in conducting clinical trials. For a trial to prove that a new treatment is safe and effective against a particular type of cancer, the treatment must be tested in hundreds or even thousands of patients. It’s often impossible for a single cancer center to recruit this many patients. The NCI recognized this problem in the 1950s and established the Cooperative Group program, now called the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN), to provide funding and infrastructure to support large, multi-institutional clinical trials. As many as 25,000 cancer patients participate in NCTN treatment or imaging trials at more than 3,100 centers each year.
The NCI also supports designated cancer centers, which conduct laboratory, clinical, and population-based research. The NCI sets the standards for these centers, which receive funds from the NIH in the form of Cancer Center Support Grants. Some of these NCI-designated cancer centers, including The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, earn the additional designation of comprehensive cancer center by providing community outreach and education programs.
Education is an important part of the NCI’s mission, and the agency’s efforts in this area are broad in scope. Some of these efforts are geared toward professionals (cancer researchers and physicians), while others are focused on patients and caregivers.
For professionals, the NCI provides fellowships, training grants, and career development awards. Fellowships help people who have recently finished their advanced degrees to gain hands-on clinical or research experience under the guidance of expert mentors. Training grants help institutions set up fellowship and other training programs, and career development awards fund research by fellows and other junior researchers.
For both professionals and patients, the NCI offers Physician Data Query (PDQ, www.cancer.gov/publications/pdq), an online source of information about a multitude of cancer-related topics. PDQ summaries give information about screening, treatment, and supportive care for various cancers in children and adults. There are two summaries for each topic: a detailed, technical version for professionals and a patient-focused version. PDQ also provides information about genetics, cancer drugs, alternative/complementary medicine, and cancer prevention as well as dictionaries of cancer terms, genetic terms, and cancer drugs.
The NCI provides a wealth of online resources specifically for patients at www.cancer.gov/resources-for/patients, including basic information about cancer, diagnosis and staging, treatment, treatment side effects, clinical trials, coping, managing care, and other cancer-related topics. More detailed fact sheets are available about individual types of cancer and specific treatments.
The NCI’s online resources for caregivers (www.cancer.gov/resources-for/caregivers) include much of the same information that is available for patients. But additional information is available on topics such as support for caregivers and advice for parents of children with cancer.
Finally, the NCI Contact Center (www.cancer.gov/contact), also called the Cancer Information Service, is available to answer questions from patients, caregivers, health care providers, and researchers. The toll-free phone line (800-4-CANCER, or 800-422-6237) and live online chat are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM Eastern Time. And questions can be submitted at any time by an online submission form.
By funding cancer research and providing education for patients, caregivers, physicians, and researchers, the NCI supports cancer prevention, treatment, and survivorship throughout the United States.
For more information, visit the NCI at www.cancer.gov, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789, email The Learning Center at MD Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.mdanderson.org. To learn more about clinical trials, visit www.clinicaltrials.org.
OncoLog, July 2018, Volume 63, Issue 7