Honoring a Legacy: Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens

December 11 2023

In November 2023, the cancer research community lost an extraordinary and irreplaceable leader. Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens was a founding director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) when the program was established in 2014 and served as the program’s director until shortly before her passing. She was a tireless advocate for efforts mitigating cancer disparities.She served as a respected mentor to many and evidenced a passion for physician education and advocacy for underserved communities.

Dr. McCaskill-Stevens always had ambitions of becoming a physician, but she did not begin her journey to medical school until she was thirty years old. She interned at Time magazine and was a medical editor at Marcle Dekker and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, citing her desire to learn as much as possible about medicine before delving into medical school. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens attended Georgetown University School of Medicine and eventually served her alma mater as an internal medicine resident. Her experience at Georgetown University ultimately invigorated her commitment to breast cancer research and improving cancer care delivery for underrepresented populations. She considered evidence gleaned from clinical trials an essential means to inform standards of care and address research gaps and barriers.

In 1998, Dr. McCaskill-Stevens assumed her first role at the NCI within the breast cancer prevention arena. She served as program director for the STAR study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene in postmenopausal women who were at an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens subsequently co-lead the Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST), a trial comparing two types of digital mammograms on screening impact and capacity to reduce advanced breast cancer. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens did not merely lead TMIST trial design and implementation, she also served as a patient participant enrolling herself into the TMIST trial. She also enrolled in a treatment trial for leiomyosarcoma.

Dr. McCaskill-Stevens’ passion for facilitating underserved populations’ access to care encouraged NCI to combine the Community Clinical Oncology and the National Community Cancer Centers Programs to produce NCORP. Today, NCORP is a national network that brings cancer clinical trials and cancer delivery studies to people in their own communities through medical practices at diverse, community-based hospitals and practices. Her oversight pioneered a route current and future oncology researchers may readily explore to ensure equitable patient care. In August of 2023, NCI honored Dr. McCaskill-Stevens’ legacy by creating the NCI Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens Career Development Award for Community Oncology and Prevention Research. This is a training award tailored to physicians committed to innovating community-based prevention and cancer care delivery.

NRG Oncology is honored to have worked with Dr. Worta McCaskill-Stevens via NRG’s NCORP Research Base. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens served as a true visionary stewarding clinical research development and practice improvement. NCI’s accomplishments in the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) Group and NCORPs directly resulted from decades of Dr. McCaskill-Stevens’ tireless efforts. NRG commits to honoring her legacy with our sustained commitment to Dr. McCaskill-Stevens’ mission to improve access to cancer care for all.

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