MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Medical professionals and state leaders are celebrating a major milestone in the medical world.

People in South Florida now have access to the most cutting edge and innovative cancer treatments, thanks to a special designation for a local health system.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center has been recognized by the National Cancer Institute as being among the top in the nation for cancer care and treatment.

Monday, the banner came down revealing the honor and the room erupted in applause.

It is now the only NCI-designated center in South Florida. It is the second in the state along with Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, and the 71st in the entire country.

That means it’s among the best in the country for cancer care and research.

“These are the Crown Jewels in the nation’s war on cancer,” said Dr. Robert Coyle, Director of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the NCI.

More than just a title, the distinction gives patients access to the latest and most innovative treatments.

“The designation allows our patients access to novel cancer treatments, including immunotherapy and precision medicine approaches that are only available at designated cancer centers,” explained Dr. Stephen Nimer, Director of the Sylvester Center.

The announcement has been about seven years in the making through a rigorous and competitive application process.

Senator Rick Scott was governor at the time the goal was set and helped champion the effort.

“You always wonder if the things you work on in office will be fulfilled,” he said. “Everyone worked hard. I just want to congratulate you.”

Sylvester was selected based on their research programs, outreach efforts, and education for future medical professionals. The designation has significance not only for the University Health System but for the entire state.

“There is nothing in this world as important as these world-class research universities. Because they really are the economic engine center for our country,” says Rep. Donna Shalala who attended the ceremony.

As a patient and breast cancer survivor, Marilyn Russo said the care and compassion she experienced there made all the difference in her cancer battle.

“I’m so grateful to Sylvester for having brought me back to life, cancer-free,” she says. “If it weren’t because of the state-of-the-art technology and top-notch doctors, I’m not sure what would have happened. I’m super grateful, and I thought that’s the least I can do is come out and support.”

Now, among one of the most select and distinguished in the nation, Sylvester can continue to help patients and pioneer innovative treatments for years to come.

Karli Barnett