The value of the Cancer Center Support Grant in communications

By Matthew Huesser, MBA, DBA, vice president for cancer research administration at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health

Exterior of National Cancer Institute building in Rockville, Maryland. (photo:
Exterior of National Cancer Institute building in Rockville, Maryland. (photo:

Out of more than 3,500 cancer centers nationwide, only 72 are currently National Cancer Institute-designated. If your cancer center is NCI-designated or attempting to achieve designation, the Cancer Center Support Grant, or CCSG, tells an incredible story of a world-class research institute that is directly contributing to the advances in the treatment, prevention and detection of cancer.

What is the CCSG?

The CCSG is the P30 infrastructure grant that provides critical federal funding toward a cancer center’s transdisciplinary research, education and patient care CCSG-supported entities. This includes research programs, shared resources, developmental funds and clinical trial activity. Renewed every five years, the CCSG also denotes a cancer center’s status as an NCI-designated cancer center.

Cancer centers supported with a CCSG are “expected to serve as major sources of discovery of the nature of cancer and of development of more effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis, and therapy; to contribute significantly to the development of shared resources that support research; to collaborate and coordinate their research efforts with other NCI-funded programs and investigators; and to disseminate research findings for the benefit of the community.”

The CCSG itself is a 2,000-plus page document submitted to the NCI for review. This is followed by a site visit wherein cancer center leadership presents important data and information to a review panel comprised of leaders from other NCI-designated cancer centers. These reviewers evaluate how well the cancer center’s leadership, organization and processes facilitate scientific productivity and strengthen the institute’s research capabilities.

Why does it matter in marketing and public affairs?

As communicators, we likely have similar goals at our respective cancer centers: to promote the key accomplishments and unique capabilities that differentiate our centers from the thousands of others around the country.

Regardless of whether your marketing and public affairs team directly supports the CCSG submission, understanding the CCSG will support your team.

The CCSG shapes the research mission of your cancer center and tells your story. It details the transformative basic, translational and population science research that is moving the needle on reducing the burden of cancer, as well as our efforts toward community outreach and engagement, education and training, and diversity, equity and inclusion that our centers have accomplished over the past five years. Through the CCSG, we gain a deep understanding of our cancer center’s bench-to-bedside discoveries and other achievements that will guide us in developing key messaging to support our centers.

Additionally, the CCSG looks to the future, detailing a cancer center’s strategic plan to build upon prior successes and pursue the next phase of growth and innovation. It provides a roadmap to achieving our cancer center’s mission. We as communicators have a critical role toward this achievement. Through the CCSG, we are able to understand our director’s priorities and guide the goals and objectives of marketing and public affairs to align with those of our center’s strategic plan.

One of the most important factors in a successful communications plan is identifying your audience. Once we determine who it is we want to reach, we need to understand them in order to provide relevant content. For most of us, our audience includes people living in the communities we serve.

These communities – or catchment areas – are detailed in the CCSG. Demographics, health disparities, cancer types that are more prevalent in the region, and patient involvement in clinical trials are all described in the CCSG. By understanding those we hope to reach, we will be able to tailor our messaging to provide our audience with information that is relevant and important to them.

Becoming familiar with the CCSG is invaluable to anyone involved in public affairs and marketing at a cancer center. It is a single (albeit long!) document that describes the depth and breadth of the research being conducted at a leading cancer institute, as well as the strategic plan for the future. It is an incredible tool in helping us determine the stories we need to tell and how they should be told. Understanding our cancer center’s NCI support grant can only help strengthen the impact and reach of our communications efforts.

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