Norris Cotton Cancer Center is named for the late Senator Norris Cotton who represented New Hampshire in the United States Congress from 1947 to 1974. He was instrumental in securing a $3 million federal grant in 1970 to build rural New England's first regional cancer center.
When it opened its doors in 1972, the Cancer Center consisted of a two-story underground facility for radiation therapy and related laboratories and services. It was financed in large part by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare through the NCI.
In 1973, Senator Cotton secured a second federal grant of $500,000 to support cancer research at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. At the same time, the trustees of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital allocated funds to help build a two-story addition to the Cancer Center, which was completed in 1977.
In 1978, the Cancer Center was approved and funded as an NCI-designated Clinical Cancer Center. In August 1990, the Cancer Center was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center in recognition of its programs in cancer prevention, detection, treatment, research, and education.