Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute celebrates 15 years of transformative cancer care

In Clinical Trials by Barbara Jacoby

Nationally recognized for multidisciplinary cancer treatment and top enrollment in research clinical trials

Celebrating 15 years of caring for patients, the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute has grown to become one of the most advanced cancer centers in the country, recognized for its patient-centered care as well as a robust program of research and clinical trials.

“Over the past 15 years, the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute has transformed cancer care in Delaware,” said Janice E. Nevin, M.D., MPH, Christiana Care president and chief executive officer. “With nearly 2 million patient visits since its opening, the Graham Cancer Center is recognized as a national model for multidisciplinary cancer care and a top enroller in clinical trials. We are making tremendous progress in reducing cancer mortality in our state, and in improving the lives of the people we have the privilege of serving.”

Before the Graham Cancer Center opened in 2003, Delaware ranked number one in cancer mortality in the U.S. Thanks to statewide efforts, including the critical decision to create the Graham Cancer Center, Delaware now ranks number 18.

Cancer rates are declining in part due to advances in technology and treatments, but also through collaborations on cancer screening and prevention with other Delaware hospitals, providers, state government and community outreach groups. Through unprecedented public-private partnerships, the Graham Cancer Center is integral to ensuring that all people in Delaware receive care for cancer no matter their income level or health insurance status.

“Through both statewide and national partnerships, we have improved early detection and cancer prevention in our state and brought some of the very latest and most promising cancer treatments to our patients without their having to leave Delaware,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. “By working together we have lightened the burden of cancer in our communities and offered those at risk the chance to live longer, better lives.”

Here are more than 15 reasons why the Graham Cancer Center has raised the bar on cancer prevention and treatment in our communities:

2002

Multidisciplinary cancer care becomes the new normal as the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute opens its doors. Today there are 12 multidisciplinary treatment centers (MDCs) within the Graham Cancer Center tailored to every type of cancer.

During an MDC conference meeting, patients come face-to-face with a complete team of specialists (surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurse navigators, subspecialists and support staff) needed to begin therapy, all in one visit to map out the patient’s personal treatment plan. Studies show patients do better in multidisciplinary care settings, and Graham Cancer Center staff provides training and consultation to help cancer centers around the country emulate this successful program.

Full-time adult genetic counseling and gene testing are signature services of a statewide cancer risk assessment program offered for the first time in Delaware, one reason for Delaware’s falling cancer mortality rate. To date, 95 percent of genetically at-risk individuals identified through the program have opted to change the way they manage their health, choosing for example, prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, and/or increased screening at a younger age than the general population.

2005

Clinical trial enrollment rises to 20 percent among Graham Center patients, well above the national average of 4 percent.

2006

The Graham Cancer Center survivorship program, one of the first in the nation, is providing support for patients with emotional and physical side effects that may linger or occur after cancer treatment is over.

2007

Designation as an NCI-selected community cancer center program (NCCCP) launches the Graham Cancer Center into a top national network working together to bring the latest cancer treatments to patients in their own communities.

The Ruth Ann Minner High Risk Family Cancer Registry begins documenting at risk individuals. Today there are 9,253 individuals and 349,067 family members registered whose 600 donated biospecimens are banked for research under Institutional Review Board approval.

2008

Christiana Care is first in Delaware to offer Cyberknife, non-invasive radiation technology targeting tumors with the highest degree of precision. Today, the Graham Cancer Center is home to some of the most advanced cancer-fighting radiation technology in the world.

2009

Through the opening of the West Pavilion, the Center for Translational Cancer Research, with its 7,000-square-foot, wet laboratory began applying basic science toward potential new therapies and diagnostics. The Center represents a new model for translational cancer research, where scientists interact directly with the medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgeons who take care of the patients.

2010

The Pharmaceutical Clinical Trials team treats the first gene therapy patient. An active pharmaceutical trials program continues to conduct Phase I, II and III drug trials.

2011

An historic partnership is formed between The Wistar Institute of Philadelphia and the Graham Cancer Center to bring the latest cancer research into the community. Across the U.S., 85 percent of cancer care is provided at community-based programs like the Graham Cancer Center. Wistar is the nation’s first NCI-designated cancer center solely devoted to cancer biology research. Attracting national interest, this new model of collaboration leverages cutting-edge research to benefit cancer prevention and therapy statewide. Groundbreaking joint studies are targeting melanoma, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, brain and breast cancers, while others are leveraging gene editing technology toward potential new therapies.

2012

Funded by the NIH to participate in the Cancer Genome Atlas Project, the Graham Cancer Center provided approximately 500 annotated, research quality biospecimens to project scientists studying the molecular basis of cancer to advance diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies. Today, with the Department of Pathology, the Tissue Procurement Center continues collection and preservation of thousands of catalogued blood, cancer and normal tissue samples for research.

2013

Two fully accredited residency programs in Medical Physics (2013) and Radiation Oncology (2014) support our mission as a teaching institution to educate and train tomorrow’s physicians and medical specialists.

2014

A $8.2M five-year grant from the newly formed NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) positions the Graham Cancer Center one of the largest community cancer research programs in the United States, with more than 100 active clinical trials in treatment, prevention and cancer control.

2015

The Gene Editing Institute, established by internationally recognized biologist and gene editing pioneer Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., is the only research institute of its kind based at a community cancer center. The Gene Editing Institute is dedicated to education, technology development and scientific research into the core of the human genome. Its mission is to design the genetic tools that scientists need to manipulate and alter human genetic material easier and more efficiently than ever before. This knowledge is destined to improve understanding that could lead to treatments and cure for many genetic diseases including cancer. In June 2016, the Gene Editing Institute integrated into Wistar’s Molecular Screening Facility.

2017

Establishment of a Breast Surgery training program, accredited by the Society of Surgical Oncology, and an accredited Genetic Counseling training program.

2018

Delaware drops to number 18 among all states for cancer mortality, dramatically improving from number 1 in 2001.

Today’s Graham Cancer Center continues to focus on providing patients with the highest quality care while developing tools to ultimately end the specter of cancer in our communities.

Photos of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute

About the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute
The Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute, a National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program, is part of the Christiana Care Health System, one of the country’s most dynamic health systems, centered on improving health outcomes, making high-quality care more accessible and lowering health care costs. With more than 232,000 patient visits last year, the Graham Cancer Center is recognized as a national model for multidisciplinary cancer care and a top enroller in U.S. clinical research trials. In conjunction with the Gene Editing Institute, the Center for Translational Cancer Research, the Tissue Procurement Center, statewide High-Risk Family Cancer Registry and collaborations with world-renowned scientists at facilities such as The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia scientists are opening new avenues to more quickly translate cancer science into cancer medicine. For more information, visit christianacare.org/cancer.

Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.