LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The University of Kentucky's cancer center received a significant boost in status Friday by winning designation as a National Cancer Institute facility, giving the Bluegrass state new clout in its fight against stubbornly high cancer rates.
The prestigious title for the UK Markey Cancer Center in Lexington brings with it the potential for millions of dollars in additional research funding. The designation means its patients will have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.
For a state ranked at or near the top nationally for a multitude of cancers, the announcement was cause for celebration.
UK President Eli Capilouto said the designation signals that Kentucky will "no longer indulge the scourge of cancer in Kentucky."
Gov. Steve Beshear called it "a bold statement that Kentucky does not have to accept the intolerably high cancer rates that have plagued our people for years." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the designation places the Markey Center among the nation's pre-eminent cancer research and treatment centers.
"The university will be able to recruit the brightest researchers and clinical scientists to develop novel cancer treatments," he said in a statement.
The Markey Center becomes the 68th medical center in the country to earn the title and is the only NCI-designated cancer center in Kentucky.
The NCI distributed nearly $3.9 billion in federal grants in 2011. Roughly $265 million were support grants earmarked solely for NCI-designated cancer centers, ranging from $720,000 in Hawaii to $13.5 million to New York.
The designation had been a top goal for the Markey Center since Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers arrived in 2009.
It comes amid consistently grim statistics showing the suffering caused by cancer in the state.
Kentucky ranks first nationally in cancer deaths per 100,000 people, according to data released by the Markey Center.
More than 25,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed in Kentucky last year. The state's overall rate of cancer incidence is about 11 percent higher than the national rate, and its overall cancer death rate is about 18 percent higher than the U.S. rate, the figures showed.
Kentucky leads the nation for incidence of lung, colon and oral cavity cancers and was second for incidence of kidney cancer, third for brain cancer and eighth for cervical cancer, according to the statistics.
NCI is part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Its designated cancer centers have been leaders in new discoveries into cancer's causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment.