The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

December 10, 2012

Askins shares cancer center's big plans

ENID, Okla. — The Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma is fast becoming one of the top cancer centers in the region, said Jari Askins, associate provost at the Oklahoma University Medical Center.

Askins, the former lieutenant governor who also is director of marketing for the center, told Enid Rotary Club members Monday one in three women and one in four men in Oklahoma will be diagnosed with cancer, resulting in 18,000 new cases a year in the state. Oklahoma has a slightly higher cancer rate than the rest of the nation, she said, because of poor nutrition, tobacco use and obesity.

The Stephenson Cancer was started as a result of a legislative mandate signed by Gov. Frank Keating to develop a state resource for cancer research, prevention and education. Askins said officials want to designate Stephenson Cancer Center as a National Cancer Institute Center, just as M.D. Anderson in Houston, Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Centers in New York City are. To do that, they must meet certain criteria, which Askins said is rapidly being done.

No facility in Oklahoma has the NCI designation. There are five components necessary to qualify: prevention and control, laboratory research, clinical research, patient clinical care and education.

Each NCI cancer center is affiliated with a university, and the Stephenson Center is affiliated with the University of Oklahoma and the OU Health Sciences Center.

Askins said OU’s center is not seeking to take patients from other medical personnel in Oklahoma, but could save cancer patients a trip to Houston.

“When we opened our doors, it was the largest public-private partnership in Oklahoma,” Askins said.

She said the Stephenson Center is not a hospital, but a clinic, and all the cancer doctors working on adult cancer and treatment options have moved to Stephenson.

“Children still go to Children’s Hospital, because their bodies are different,” Askins said.

She said within five years, the center will need 13 medical oncologists and has hired six. The center will need 16 surgical oncologists and has hired seven to date, and will need 20 researchers and has hired four.

Research jobs pay higher salaries than the per capita Oklahoma income.

“The goal is to bring the same level of expertise to Oklahoma that is available around the nation,” Askins said.

After one year, Stephenson Cancer Center has reached about 33 percent of its NCI goal. About 100 cancer research projects brought $25 million in funding to Oklahoma this year. More than 250 clinical trials — with more than 6,500 people participating — were held at the cancer center.

“Stephenson Cancer Center is one of the top programs on studies of women’s cancer,” Askins said.

The cancer center collaborates with the Sarah Cannon (Minnie Pearl) Cancer Research Institute in Nashville.

“Stephenson Cancer Center has the most advanced cancer technology in Oklahoma,” Askins said.

The time to become certified through NCI is normally seven to 10 years, but Askins said the strides made by the Stephenson center may allow it to qualify in five to seven.

“They knew Oklahoma would do well in agricultural research or in oil and gas research, but no one thought we would do as well in biomedical research,” she said.

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