Leadership in Cancer Series (Part 1): Cancer care leadership takes a comprehensive approach

Jun 30, 2022 | Kanaaz Pereira, Connect Moderator | @kanaazpereira

In August 2021, Cheryl L. Willman, M.D., began her role as the executive director of Mayo Clinic Cancer Programs, nationally and globally, and director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her background in integrated comprehensive cancer care, cancer genomic medicine, developing innovative treatments and clinical trials, and achieving health equity and overcoming cancer health disparities have set Mayo Clinic's cancer programs on the path toward continued excellence in cancer care.

"The opportunity to take an incredible health delivery system — the best in the nation — and be able to grow and deepen the commitment to discovery science as well as enhance community engagement, dissemination, and innovative means of cancer care delivery is an exciting opportunity for me," says Dr. Willman.

"We aim to expand our innovative cancer research programs that lead to new means to prevent and treat cancer, to transform the face of cancer medicine and how we deliver cancer care within the homes and communities of the patients we serve, assuring that all have access to Mayo Clinic's exceptional cancer care, and to train the nation and the world's workforce for cancer care and research."

Three sites provide cancer care to all who need it

Mayo Clinic operates a three-site comprehensive cancer center. The catchment areas of each site are made up of diverse patient populations. The science, then, should be equally diverse. Dr. Willman's experience and focus on population science drives her goal of developing deep data in each catchment area. Learning about the patients served, the incidence of disease and the unique challenges faced will allow each site to more effectively tailor care for patients with cancer.

A large part of Dr. Willman's work so far has included evaluating and ensuring Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center's adherence to NCI standards for the Cancer Center's next review. NCI standards focus heavily on community engagement and health equity in patient care, research, and staff recruitment and training.

NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers must have excellent clinical and community science supported by a large library of clinical trials. Staff members at these centers coordinate innovative cancer care delivery and team-based research for better means to prevent, detect and treat patients with cancer, all while involving communities and patients in that research. They also train the next generation of cancer providers and must do so with diversity, inclusion, and health equity in mind.

"This is an ethical imperative," says Dr. Willman. "Through the expansion and integration of outstanding discovery science and its translation to clinical and community settings, we will ensure that all have the opportunity to benefit from advances in cancer research."

NCI guidelines, Dr. Willman's experience, and expertise, and the needs of patients with cancer have shaped initial opportunities and strategies for the Cancer Center:

  • Continue as a world leader in the delivery of advanced, comprehensive, integrated multimodality cancer care through continual innovation
  • Through the advanced care at-home model of care, transform the face of cancer medicine by delivering cancer care and cancer clinical trials to in-home and in-community settings through virtual, digital, and platform innovation, remote patient monitoring, and real-time access to Mayo Clinic expertise and providers
  • Expand and enhance access to cancer individualized medicine, including comprehensive genomic medicine, for all patients
  • Continue to develop and deliver innovative cancer therapies, including immunotherapies, anti-cancer vaccines, viral-based therapies, and nanotherapeutics
  • Lead the world in the development and testing of new particle radiation therapies
  • Develop integrated longitudinal patient databases and community-facing data systems with novel data visualization and predictive modeling tools that both enhance and direct targeted intervention in patients and communities and advance discovery science
  • Maximize cancer education, training, and mentoring programs to develop the next generation of highly diverse cancer physicians, scientists, and allied health personnel

These opportunities will guide the strategic vision of Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center set by Dr. Willman and her team. Learn more about the data that will steer these priorities and equitable solutions in cancer care in parts two and three of the Leadership in Cancer series.

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