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I Live to Conquer Cancer: Dr. Mehmet Sitki Copur

Aug 08, 2018

As part of ASCO’s “I Live to Conquer Cancer” Campaign to raise awareness of the critical importance of federally funded cancer research, members of the oncology community are invited to answer the question “Why do you live to conquer cancer?” Written stories and videos may be shared on ASCO.org and ASCO Connection. Tell us your story today.

By Mehmet Sitki Copur, MD, FACP

I am a community oncologist and I live to conquer cancer through clinical trials, which provide my patients with access to the latest and promising investigational interventions along with close monitoring of care.

After completion of my oncology fellowship training at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1995, I came to CHI Health St Francis, a rural community hospital in Grand Island, Nebraska, and built a comprehensive community-based cancer program. The hardest part of my 23-year journey was setting up the infrastructure for clinical trials in a rural community hospital. My first venue was an academic affiliation with University of Nebraska in Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, 150 miles east. This affiliation helped me to get started with establishing the necessary clinical trials infrastructure and provided access to NCI Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) cooperative group clinical trials.

A crucial ingredient of conquering cancer is community-based cancer research. Unfortunately, cancer clinical trials traditionally have been available and accessible mostly in well-established academic medical centers in big cities, while the majority of patients with cancer are diagnosed and treated in their local small communities. As a community oncologist I knew that my participation in cancer control/prevention and cancer treatment trials would be necessary to facilitate the translation of research advances into real-world community practice. Because I live to conquer cancer, I did my best to enroll my rural Nebraska patients on high-quality NCI clinical trials. Through NCI clinical trials, my patients had access to so many cutting-edge treatment options ahead of their approval as standard care, right here in rural Nebraska, in their own backyard.

In 2007, the NCI initiated the National Community Cancer Centers Pilot (NCCCP) program. My cancer program at CHI Health St Francis was among the first 16 pilot sites for this NCI grant. NCCCP, a public-private partnership, enhanced access to and improved the quality of my cancer care services by expanding our clinical trials infrastructure and supporting a platform for basic, clinical, and population-based research, informatics, biospecimen collection, and cancer care disparities. Through seven years of NCCCP (2007-2014), I continued to live to conquer cancer every day alongside with my patients who were conquering cancer by participating in clinical trials.

Then, in 2014, came the NCI-Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP), which aligned and replaced two prior NCI programs (CCOP and NCCCP). This new NCI initiative not only supported cancer control/prevention, treatment, and screening trials but also expanded the research scope to a new venue to include cancer care delivery research. With my cancer program’s prior successful clinical trials performance in the community setting, we were chosen as one of the 35 community sites for this new NCI grant. Now into our fourth year of our NCORP grant, I continue to live to conquer cancer every day by enrolling my rural Nebraska patients onto high-quality NCI cancer control/prevention, cancer treatment, and cancer care delivery research trials.

Over the past two decades, while the national clinical trial participation rate has been an abysmal 3%, I have been able to enroll up to 10% to 33% of my patients with cancer in high-quality NCI clinical trials. I strive to conquer cancer every day and my team and I have been recognized with several national awards, including an ASCO Community Oncology Research Grant in 2010, two ASCO Clinical Trial Participation Awards in 2010 and 2016, an NCCCP Appreciation Award in 2012, and an NCORP Gold Certificate of Excellence Award for high clinical trials enrollment and performance in 2017.

The expansion of cancer research through high-quality, high-priority NCI clinical trials in the communities where the majority of our patients live is the way to conquer cancer. With the continued, promising, and supportive efforts of NCI and ASCO, I will continue to find ways to improve the current unacceptably low clinical trial participation rate in the community setting and I will continue to live to conquer cancer again and again.

Learn more about ASCO’s I Live to Conquer Cancer campaign and get involved today.



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