SMHS Awarded $1.65 Million Grant To Serve As State’s Cancer Sentinel

Mary Ann Sens
Mary Ann Sens

The University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences, in collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Health, has been awarded a five-year, $1.65 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to operate the North Dakota Statewide Cancer Registry. UND experts in the Department of Pathology and the Center for Rural Health will supervise the registry, which will serve to provide a cancer early warning system for the state.

In the 1990s, realizing the need to better track cancers and chronic diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set up a system where all states report cancer statistics—the type, stage and treatment—to the CDC to be used for public health studies, research and to establish evidence for the effectiveness of treatments; for example, does PSA screening help reduce prostate cancer deaths? To aid participation in the CDC system, the North Dakota Legislature requires all hospitals, laboratories, physicians and other health care providers to report all newly diagnosed or treated cancer patients to the North Dakota Statewide Cancer Registry. Information in the registry is highly secured, and patients are never identified.

The purpose of the North Dakota registry, established in 1997, is to monitor cancer trends, promote research, increase survival, guide policy planning and respond to cancer concerns from patients or the public. But the wealth of data compiled in the registry would lie useless until analyzed and translated into usable information for health care facilities, patients and the public. In February of this year, the Department of Health reached out to the UND SMHS and asked if it could form a collaboration to run the registry. The health department knew the SMHS’s Department of Pathology already maintained an invaluable tissue bank used in researching environmental influences on specific cancers and that the School’s CRH had strong ties with North Dakota’s hospitals as well as expertise in analyzing cancer statistics.

“UND will collect and organize the data so it can be used for public health monitoring as well as research studies,” said Mary Ann Sens, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of UND’s Department of Pathology, who will serve as the program director. “Additional goals of the registry are to establish that cancer treatment in North Dakota is equitable, prompt and meets national standards.”

“The School strives to serve the people of North Dakota and address their health care needs,” said Joshua Wynne, M.D., M.B.A., M.P.H., UND vice president for Health Affairs and dean of the UND SMHS. “Dr. Sens and her team are to be congratulated for this national recognition of their expertise and clinical excellence.”

Operating the program are Lucy Zheng, M.D., and Xudong Zhou, M.D., both from the Department of Pathology; and Kyle Muus, Ph.D., from the Center for Rural Health. They will specifically investigate cancer clusters, which are the incidences of specific cancers within a group of people, a geographic area or a period in numbers much greater than expected by chance alone.

“This is another example of the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences providing needed infrastructure for the state and maintaining a strong collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Health,” Sens said. “The registry ultimately serves all North Dakotans by providing accurate cancer data.”

Additional information on the North Dakota Statewide Cancer Registry can be found at

Contact: Denis MacLeod, assistant director, Office of Alumni and Community Relations, UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, (701) 777-2733,