When Michelle Burke, 45, was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in November 2009, she turned to several oncology centers for treatment advice.

“They didn’t know if they could help,” says the Rossmoor mother of three. The cancer had already spread to her liver and lymph nodes, and the prognosis was grim. Then she went to UC Irvine’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“The UCI doctors said, ‘You have your whole life ahead of you. We’re not going to roll over to this,’” Burke recalls. “I got in very quickly to see Dr. Randy Holcombe; they dropped everything to help me.”

Holcombe, chief of UCI’s Division of Hematology/Oncology and associate director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, prepared a treatment plan calling for aggressive chemotherapy to shrink the tumors, followed by surgery to remove whatever remained of them. Burke is now in remission.

He is proud of the quality of Burke’s care. It’s an example of why UCI’s hematology/oncology practice was among the nation’s first to earn American Society of Clinical Oncology certification for high-quality patient care.

“It underscores our commitment to excellence in patient care and demonstrates the high level of clinical service we provide for our patients with cancer and blood disorders,” Holcombe says.

Certification through ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative assures patients and their families that a practice meets rigorous standards for high-quality cancer care. The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Division of Hematology/Oncology was California’s first QOPI-certified practice and is the only one in the U.S. directly affiliated with a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center.

“We are incredibly proud to have attained this three-year certification,” Holcombe says.

QOPI is a voluntary self-assessment and improvement program launched by ASCO in 2006 to help outpatient hematology and oncology practices gauge the caliber of care they provide. Encompassing at least 80 quality measures, it lets practices compare their performance data to that of others across the country and identify areas for improvement.

As an NCI-designated facility, the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only place in Orange County where patients can participate in clinical trials as well as receive leading-edge treatment.

It pursues translational research efforts focused on several types of cancer: gastrointestinal, skin, prostate, breast and gynecologic. The extremely active and productive translational working groups are composed of basic scientists, epidemiologists and clinicians with a keen interest in transforming ideas and discoveries into new cancer interventions.

“From a patient perspective, QOPI certification is like a beacon identifying an oncology practice as one that meets all national guidelines for quality care. It will help patients and their families make informed decisions about where to get the best treatment for cancer and blood disorders,” says Holcombe.

“The certification reinforces that we in UCI’s Division of Hematology/Oncology are experts in taking care of patients, complementing our strengths in laboratory research and clinical trials that have always been hallmarks of our program here at the cancer center.”