A single case highlights why Kentucky needed a comprehensive cancer center

Published 10:16 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

Anna Cox had just graduated from the University of Kentucky when she was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2018. She first sought emergency care for a “wrenching abdominal pain.” It turned out to be related to stage four diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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Cox was treated at the university’s Markey Cancer Center, which made history Friday by announcing it is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a “comprehensive” cancer center — the only one in Kentucky.

“I had never been sick before, and I did not even have a primary-care doctor,” Cox said Friday at the Gatton Student Center, where she joined politicians and university staff to to announce the honor. “With a Stage 4 diagnosis, naturally I was scared of what was to come. But my team at Markey was with me every step of the way.”

Markey is now one of 56 comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. The designation goes to institutions that conduct in-depth research, among other things.

Because of the “compassionate” care she received there, the now cancer-free Cox returned to UK to pursue a medical degree.

“What started with time as a cancer patient led me to innovative cancer research and into medical school as a future physician — all at one institution,” Cox said. “This is what being a comprehensive cancer center is all about.”

State Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, praised the “added value” the state will enjoy with the new designation.

“This is not a football school; this is not a basketball school,” Stivers said in Lexington. “This is a school that will be known as a center of excellence for cancer research and giving hope for a cure to those who fight this with their family and friends.”

Also on hand for the announcement were UK President Eli Capilouto, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and others. In a pre-recorded video, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said the honor paves the way “for even more groundbreaking research in the fight against cancer and ensuring that Kentucky’s communities will receive the gold standard of cancer care.”

In 2021, more than 10,000 Kentuckians died with cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it one of the more deadly states for cancer patients. Almost all of Markey’s patients come from Kentucky, UK said in a press release.

Markey patients now have “access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI-designated centers,” UK said in a statement.

Barr said, “It means that we can attract the best clinicians, the best researchers, more research dollars, better clinical trials. And that means better outcomes. And, boy, do we need it in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”