On August 23, 2023, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN)—a not-for-profit alliance of leading academic cancer centers—announced Crystal S. Denlinger, MD, FACP, as incoming Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Dr. Denlinger—who is currently NCCN’s Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer—is being promoted to lead the global guidelines organization following a national search to replace the retiring longtime CEO, Robert W. Carlson, MD.
Dr. Denlinger has a long history of global cancer care leadership with NCCN and beyond. She was named an NCCN Young Investigator Awardee in 2012 and received the NCCN Rodger Winn Award in 2018 for exemplifying leadership, drive, and commitment in service to developing NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines). Before being named Chief Scientific Officer in January of 2021, she was chair of the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Survivorship (a role previously held by Dr. Carlson), as well as serving on the Bone, Esophageal/Gastric, and Occult Primary Cancers Panel, the Panel for Older Adult Oncology, the JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Editorial Board, numerous abstract and scientific review committees, and participated in NCCN’s work on NCCN Harmonized Guidelines for Sub-Saharan Africa.
Since joining NCCN full-time, she has provided organizational guidance, spearheaded pilot programs for the Health Equity Report Card, has overseen oncology research grant facilitation through the NCCN Oncology Research Program (ORP), and has championed NCCN’s outreach efforts to improve cancer care and policy worldwide. Dr. Denlinger has also overseen the NCCN Drugs & Biologics Compendium (NCCN Compendium), NCCN Biomarkers Compendium, and library of NCCN Chemotherapy Order Templates (NCCN Templates).
“Dr. Denlinger is the perfect person to build on Dr. Carlson’s impressive and enduring work leading this premier oncology organization,” said John W. Sweetenham, MD, FRCP, FACP, FASCO, Professor of Medicine and Associate Director for Cancer Network Clinical Affairs at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern; Chair of the NCCN Board of Directors. “She has shown a career long commitment to improving outcomes and experiences for all people with cancer. Dr. Denlinger is beloved throughout NCCN and the larger oncology community. Her tireless efforts and excellence treating patients, advancing new research, forging partnerships, and advocating on Capitol Hill will help NCCN continue to define and advance high-quality, high-value, patient-centered cancer care globally for years to come.”
Dr. Denlinger previously served as Chief, Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology; Deputy Director, Early Drug Development Phase 1 Program; Director, Survivorship Program; and Associate Professor, Department of Hematology/Oncology and continues on the Adjunct Faculty at Fox Chase Cancer Center—an NCCN Member Institution.
Dr. Denlinger graduated from a combined BS/MD program at The College of New Jersey and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, followed by an internal medicine residency with Mount Sinai Medical Center, and hematology/oncology fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center/Temple University Hospital. She has authored hundreds of clinical research articles and abstracts and received numerous awards from organizations that include the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Foundation and the American College of Physicians.
As CEO, Dr. Denlinger will oversee a staff of more than 150 employees at NCCN Global Headquarters, located just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The work includes maintaining the library of NCCN Guidelines— the recognized standard for clinical direction and policy in cancer management and the most thorough and frequently-updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine. She will also lead and oversee programs advancing global collaborations, new oncology research, peer-reviewed publication, patient information, and cancer policy.
“I have wanted to be a doctor since first grade, and an oncologist since high school. I’ve experienced first-hand what it means to be there for a loved one while they face cancer, both early stage and advanced disease,” said Dr. Denlinger. “In my years of seeing patients, managing clinical trials, and helping to update international, evidence-based standards for care, I have seen tremendous progress in cancer therapy and outcomes. I am eager to continue serving wherever I can do the most good for the greatest number of people—which is why I am so honored and excited to accept the role of CEO with NCCN. I am grateful to Dr. Carlson—as well as the NCCN Board of Directors and all of my colleagues—for this opportunity.”
A Legacy of Improving and Facilitating Quality, Effective, Equitable, and Accessible Cancer Care
Dr. Carlson first announced his plans to retire in January 2023, 10 years after taking the helm at NCCN. At the time he stepped into the role, NCCN was maintaining 58 NCCN Guidelines and 11 NCCN Guidelines for Patients. Under Dr. Carlson’s direction, the clinical information program expanded to 84 NCCN Guidelines, sharing the very latest evidence and expert consensus for treating nearly every type of cancer, as well as screening, prevention, and supportive care. The library of NCCN Guidelines for Patients now contains 67 easy-to-read books to empower people with cancer and caregivers with the information they need to make informed treatment choices.
NCCN Guidelines utilization has also grown significantly over the past decade. The guidelines were downloaded 4.4 million times during 2012; that number rose to 13.3 million in 2022. These free resources are accessed by more than 1.7 million different registered users; nearly half located outside of the United States.
Dr. Carlson has grown the membership for NCCN from 21 elite academic cancer institutions when he began, to 33 elite academic centers across the United States as of April 2023. The number of staff at NCCN’s global headquarters also doubled during his tenure.
“We will forever be grateful for the passion and expertise Dr. Carlson brought to the role of NCCN CEO, and the tremendous difference he has made in the lives of people with cancer and their loved ones everywhere over the course of his incomparable career,” said Dr. Sweetenham. “He matched unwavering commitment to excellence with an equally unwavering commitment to kindness and compassion. This was particularly visible in his work partnering with local experts to make NCCN Guidelines more accessible across countries and regions with differing resource levels. Dr. Carlson also personally spearheaded the successful ‘Just Bag It’ campaign to improve safe handling of chemotherapy. He has overseen NCCN’s growing work to fight for equity in cancer care, and the inclusion of respectful, gender-affirming language throughout the NCCN Guidelines. NCCN’s recognition and influence relating to national and global cancer care policy also increased dramatically during his tenure.”
“I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Denlinger as NCCN’s new CEO and look forward to seeing NCCN continue to build on our numerous and longstanding successes helping all people with cancer to live better lives,” said Dr. Carlson. “It has been an extreme honor to work with so many dedicated colleagues, patients, and advocates to profoundly improve access to high-quality cancer care over the years.”
Dr. Denlinger will assume the role of NCCN CEO on October 9, 2023.
This announcement was originally published August 23, 2023, on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network website.