University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center makes history with national designation

Published 3:09 pm Monday, September 18, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

Anna Cox had just graduated from the University of Kentucky when she was diagnosed with blood cancer in 2018.

Email newsletter signup

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.

Cox was treated at the university’s Markey Cancer Center, which made history Friday by announcing it is now recognized by the National Cancer Institute as a “Comprehensive” Cancer Center — the first and only in the state to have that designation.

“I had never been sick before, and I did not even have a primary care doctor,” Cox said at the Gatton Student Center Friday. She joined politicians and medical and university staff to to announce the honor. “With a stage four 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.”

‘New hope’

Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-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 University President Eli Capilouto, Gov. Andy Beshear, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and others.

In pre-recording video comments, United States Senate Majority Leader 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.”

“This distinction brings new hope to Kentuckians battling through some of the toughest days of their lives,” McConnell said. “Gone are the days of traveling to far flung institutions to receive the best medical treatments and therapies. Kentuckians can now access world-class care closer to home and without ever leaving our state.”

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.

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

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