August 12, 2015

UNM Cancer Center Awarded National Cancer Institute’s Highest Comprehensive Designation

By msequeira
Elite designation awarded to the state’s only NCI-designated cancer center, which serves patients and communities throughout New Mexico

The University of New Mexico Cancer Center (UNMCC) has been awarded the highest designation and rating in the United States for cancer treatment and research programs. It has received the National Cancer Institute’s “NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation, identifying it as one of the leading cancer centers in the nation and the only such cancer center in New Mexico. “Fifteen years ago we made a promise – to be of service to the people of New Mexico and to overcome New Mexico’s cancer burden - and we committed ourselves to building New Mexico’s finest, most comprehensive cancer treatment program. To be of service, we sought to be one of the nation’s very best - a NCI Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center,” says Cheryl Willman, MD, Director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. A press conference will be held today at 10:00 a.m.

Cheryl Willman, MD

Cheryl Willman, MD

The UNM Cancer Center was first named the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico in 2003, a title conferred by the State Legislature and Governor of New Mexico and was first designated as a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center in 2005.  It assures that all New Mexicans have access to world-class cancer diagnosis and treatment and benefit from advances in cancer research here in our home state, surrounded by the love and support of their families and friends.

As a National Cancer Institute designated cancer center, conferred by the National Institutes of Health, the University of New Mexico Cancer Center must undergo an intensive federal re-certification and designation process every five years. The rigorous process involves submission of a large federal application reporting: all cancer patient data and outcomes treated at the Center; the development and results of all cancer clinical trials testing new diagnostics and therapies; the results of all laboratory and population-based research; the status of all statewide and national outreach programs and community collaborations; the results of all workforce development and all education and training programs for cancer-trained physicians, nurses, pharmacists, scientists and others; and, the impact of the Center’s programs on its state and region, including economic development and outreach, and addressing the cancer needs and burden of the state.

Following submission of the 1,486 page application on September 25, 2014, the Center underwent a second stage review with 32 site visitors (leading NCI -Designated Cancer Center Directors and scientists from around the country) who evaluated the Center on-site for a two-day period on February 23-24, 2015. A detailed report and evaluation was generated which was then reviewed by the National Cancer Advisory Board, appointed by the President of the United States, in June 2015.

Following a unanimous vote by the National Cancer Advisory Board, the UNMCC was evaluated with a merit descriptor of “outstanding” and was elevated to the top designation status – to an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.  Transition to this highest level of designation by the federal government and the National Cancer Institute recognizes the UNM Cancer Center as one of the top Cancer Centers in the nation. To be designated as a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center, a cancer center must demonstrate significant results in five areas.

Comprehensive cancer centers must deliver the highest quality, comprehensive, integrated cancer diagnosis and treatment. This diagnosis and treatment must be delivered by multi-disciplinary teams of cancer specialty physicians: medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, GYN oncologists, pediatric oncologists, supportive care specialists; nurses; pharmacists; and other health care professionals. AT UNM, New Mexico’s largest team of cancer physicians, 116 doctors in every cancer specialty recruited from the finest medical schools in the nation work with over 500 health care professionals to provide care to more than 10,000 cancer patients each year in more than 135,000 clinic visits. These patients come from every county in New Mexico and from out of state.  In addition, the UNM Cancer Center partners with Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, where UNM physicians work in concert with MMC physicians and staff to provide treatment to an additional 600-700 Southern New Mexicans each year.

Comprehensive cancer centers must provide access to the newest cancer treatments in national and industry-sponsored cancer clinical trials. The UNM Cancer Center, working with community health systems across the state, built the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance, a statewide clinical trials network that provides access to new cancer drugs and treatments in more than 160 studies each year. The nation considers the Alliance to be an “exemplary national model for cancer health care delivery.”  The UNM Cancer Center has also joined a partnership with other NCI cancer centers to build the Total Cancer Care/ORIEN project in which all UNM cancer patients will have the opportunity to have their cancer tissues undergo advanced genome sequencing so that we can target them to the most promising new treatments available. This project assures that New Mexicans will have access to the best diagnostics and newest targeted treatments.

Comprehensive cancer centers must conduct world-class cancer research, in our laboratories, our clinics, and our communities, to overcome New Mexico’s cancer burden and promote economic development. Supported by more than $72 million annually in research funds, UNM Cancer Center scientists work with partners at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and New Mexico State University to develop more effective cancer diagnostics and treatments. The Center’s team of 132 cancer scientists has developed new diagnostics and drugs for leukemia, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, liver and pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, and melanoma. Since 2010, they have been awarded 33 new patents, have 117 patents pending and have started 13 new biotechnology companies.

Finally, comprehensive cancer centers must educate, train, and mentor the next generation of cancer researchers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health care workers to ensure that New Mexico and the nation have an outstanding, highly training healthcare workforce.  The UNMCC education and training programs were particularly noted for the education and training of students, more than 50 percent of whom represent minority and underserved student groups.  Since 2010, the Center has trained over 250 cancer scientists and over 168 cancer physicians and healthcare professionals.

Paul Roth, MD, who serves as chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and as dean of the UNM School of Medicine, says, “We could not be more proud of our Cancer Center and its achievements, which are critical for the growth and vitality of our institution and the citizens of New Mexico.”

(news coverage)

About Cheryl Willman, MD

Cheryl L. Willman, MD, has served as Director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center since 1999. She is a Professor of Pathology and Internal Medicine at the UNM School of Medicine where she holds the Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research. Dr. Willman received her medical degree in 1981 from The Mayo School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Awarded one of the first NIH Physician Scientist Awards in 1984, Dr. Willman completed her residency and post-doctoral training in pathology and cancer research at the National Institutes of Health in Washington DC, UNM, and the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an internationally recognized leukemia researcher, whose work now focuses on the use of comprehensive genomic technologies to identify novel targets for improved diagnosis, risk classification, and therapy, and, the translation of these new targets to diagnostics, therapeutics, and clinical trials. She has played significant leadership roles in the leukemia translational medicine studies in two of the NCI Cooperative Groups, COG and SWOG and has been consistently funded by the NIH, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and HHMI for over 25 years.


About the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 400-mile radius. One of the premier cancer centers nationwide, the UNMCCC has more than 116 board-certified oncology physicians, forming New Mexico’s largest cancer care team. It treats over 60 percent of adults and the majority of the children in New Mexico diagnosed with cancer — more than 10,000 people each year — from every county in the state. Through its partnership with the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance, which is the model for the National Community Oncology Research Program, the UNMCCC offers access to more than 175 clinical trials to New Mexicans in every part of the state. And through partnerships and collaborative clinical programs, it brings world-class cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment people throughout the state. Annual federal and private funding of more than $72 million supports the UNMCCC’s research programs. Learn more at


UNM Cancer Center contact information

Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929,
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486,


Tags: awards & honors, Press Release Archive 2015