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The Top Priorities of a CEO: A Message from CEOs to CEOs

May 30, 2013

By Ron Nelson, chief executive officer, Avis Budget Group, Inc. and John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer, American Cancer Society, Inc.

Mr. Nelson and Dr. Seffrin are serving as the 2013 CEOs Against Cancer National Meeting Co-chairs.

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As CEOs, we think not only about the bottom line, needs of stakeholders, and the marketplace, but also about the employees that are at the heart and soul of our companies. We think about how to retain them, strategies to attract more of the best and brightest, and overall productivity and morale. But, sometimes we overlook a vital aspect of our employees: their health.

Americans spend one-third of their lives at work. Are we fostering a culture of health while they’re on the job? The healthier and the happier our employees are, the better the work and the better their lives – that sounds like a win-win to us. We know that health-related productivity losses cost US employers $225.8 billion annually, and we also know that more than one-third of all cancers are related to modifiable lifestyle factors that include lack of physical activity, unhealthy diets, and tobacco use.

Some of the biggest successes and most effective weapons in the war on cancer – early detection and prevention – are not being used as effectively as they could be. We can help our employees make healthier lifestyle choices by offering prevention programs, such as tobacco cessation or enhancing access for physical activity, as well as making healthy food choices available and affordable. These programs help increase overall direct and indirect cost savings.

The American Cancer Society CEOs Against Cancer program allows CEOs to make our employees’ health a priority and lead the fight against cancer, and come together to leverage our assets to do more in the workforce. If we intervene, and work together, we can change the world as we know it and save more lives from cancer. It is a good business decision, as well as the right moral choice. We invite you to join us – we have no doubt you will realize the return on investment that positively impacts all other priorities – not only for your company, but for your community as well.

You can establish the tone at the top, set the agenda, and change what is into what ought to be. We invite you to join us in working toward this lifesaving change at the upcoming CEOs Against Cancer National Meeting in Denver, Colorado on June 11-12, 2013. You’ll learn how you and your company can join forces with the American Cancer Society and companies across the country in an extraordinary effort to finish the fight against cancer. Please join us, and help make this cancer’s last century.

National Volunteer Week is a Great Time to Get Involved

April 22, 2013

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Gary M. Reedy is the volunteer chair of the American Cancer Society Board of Directors.

This week is the 40th annual National Volunteer Week, when many organizations honor and thank their volunteers, and call the public’s attention to the incredible difference volunteers make in communities nationwide. As a volunteer myself, I know well the value of this special sort of service to the American Cancer Society, to the many people who depend on our assistance, and to the individuals who are willing and able to volunteer their time.

I began volunteering for the Society 12 years ago, when a professional colleague presented me with an opportunity to join the ACS Foundation Board. From the very beginning I was hooked. The same friend who inspired me to get involved later lost her life to ovarian cancer, and some time after that I lost my sister-in-law at age 44 to non small-cell lung cancer. I continue to volunteer with the Society so I can play a part in ensuring that others will not be affected by cancer the way my family and friends have been.

Even an organization with more than three million volunteers still has room for more. And as we are only a few weeks away from celebrating our 100th birthday, there has never been a more exciting time to volunteer at the American Cancer Society. While we’ve seen substantial progress against cancer, there is much more work ahead of us as we strive to make this cancer’s last century. If you are not yet a Society volunteer, then I am asking you to consider getting involved in our effort to finish the fight. Everybody can make a meaningful contribution. There are so many different ways to help:

  • Make the fight local. The Society is active in more than 5100 communities nationwide.
  • Participate in a Relay For Life® event, where we walk the track all day and all night to raise funds and awareness. Find an event in your community and sign up at RelayForLife.org.
  • Support the Society’s fight against breast cancer by walking in a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer® event this fall.
  • Volunteer to help people with cancer in your community by driving them to treatment appointments, cooking a meal for Hope Lodge® guests, or providing other forms of moral and practical support. Learn about these opportunities and more at cancer.org/involved.
  • Speak up and tell your lawmakers that the cancer fight must be a top priority at home and around the world. The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, encourages federal, state, and local leaders not only talk about fighting cancer but take real steps toward decreasing the number of people suffering and dying from cancer. For more information go to acscan.org.
  • Become part of the American Cancer Society universe. Visit cancer.org/fight, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@AmericanCancer) to stay up to date on many other opportunities available to join the fight.

As we kick off National Volunteer Week I want to thank my fellow volunteers for their invaluable dedication and hard work. You are the engine that makes the American Cancer Society what it is, and every single volunteer makes a real difference in helping us finish the fight.

No Woman Should Die from Cervical Cancer

March 7, 2013

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Maria Blair is the Society’s national vice president, strategy.

In the western world, the deadly toll of cervical cancer has been greatly reduced because women have access to critical services for cervical cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.

However, in many parts of the developing world, cervical cancer is a leading cancer killer of women, causing devastating effects on families and communities. Out of the estimated 275,000 women who die each year from cervical cancer, more than 85% of these deaths occur in developing countries. By 2030, cervical cancer is expected to kill more than 474,000 women per year, at the prime of their lives.

We have the knowledge and tools to prevent unnecessary loss of life from cervical cancer. Recently, GAVI (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) committed to curb the threat of this disease. Through GAVI’s help, by 2020, more than 30 million girls in developing countries could have the opportunity to be immunized against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease that is the leading cause of cervical cancer.

Many women and girls around the world are faced with unnecessary and premature death from cervical cancer simply because of where they live. It is the role of civil society, together with our partners in the health, government, and private sector, to raise awareness about the impact of cervical cancer on women and girls in the developing world and to work toward eliminating the threat of this highly preventable and curable disease.

We need to accelerate adoption of the HPV vaccine, increase access to resource-appropriate cervical cancer screening, and increase global resources and attention to cervical cancer prevention and control. The Society-supported Cervical Cancer Action Report Card outlines current global and country efforts in combating this disease. We must ensure this disease is a priority at the global policy level, and that prevention and access to screening and HPV vaccines are included in national health plans.

This year the American Cancer Society will celebrate its 100th birthday as the largest voluntary health organization in the world, and we have made this disease a priority for our global work. In observance of International Women’s Day, we ask for collective voices to amplify the message that no woman should die from cervical cancer. The progress made during the past decades to address the global burden of this disease must be scaled up in the developing world to allow us to finish the fight against cervical cancer.

Together, we have an unprecedented opportunity and a moral obligation to change the course of this disease.

Taking Action to Finish the Fight Against Cancer

March 4, 2013

By John R. Seffrin, Ph. D., chief executive officer    

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Last month our volunteer president, Vincent T. DeVita, Jr., M.D. began the countdown to the American Cancer Society’s 100th birthday by emphasizing the incredible progress we’ve made in our ongoing efforts to save as many lives as possible. As we move closer to that milestone birthday I want to highlight another area in which your American Cancer Society is leading the way: improving quality of life for people with cancer and their loved ones.

Thanks in part to our work, 68 percent of people diagnosed with cancer in this country now survive at least five years. Ours is a culture that celebrates cancer survivorship, where the word hope – not fear – is associated with the disease. We’re working to transform cancer from deadly to treatable and from treatable to preventable. With that change has come the need to help people through many phases of life with cancer and after it. The Society provides help understanding the disease, living through the process of treatment and recovery, and emotional support throughout the journey.

We offer many programs and services to meet these needs, from providing the latest cancer information to rides or a place to stay during treatment, to assistance with appearance related side effects of treatment. We also provide emotional support, peer-to-peer mentoring, and a world class Patient Navigator Program®. Many more programs and services to fulfill specific needs are listed on cancer.org. Everything is coordinated at our truly unique National Cancer Information Center, which is the only cancer helpline where live specialists are available 24 hours a day, every single day, at 800-227-2345.

Of course as we focus on improving quality of life, our relentless efforts to prevent and treat cancer are always ongoing. I believe we can finish this fight once and for all. As the Society celebrates its 100th birthday, we’re using this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rally people everywhere to help us put the American Cancer Society out of business.

With your help, we believe we can create a future in which all people who are diagnosed with cancer survive it. We’ve learned during our 100 years that cancer thrives on silence and complacency. Progress comes when we speak out, make noise and take action.

I sincerely hope I can count on you to join us on the next – and last – leg of this journey. We know that silence won’t finish the fight; only action will. And we believe together, we can make this cancer’s last century.

Starting the Countdown to Our 100th Birthday

February 11, 2013

Vincent T. DeVita, Jr., M.D. is the national volunteer president of the American Cancer Society

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In 100 days the American Cancer Society will mark its 100th birthday. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with the American Cancer Society for more than four decades, and I’m especially pleased to serve as its volunteer president during this milestone year. It is my privilege to start counting down to our centennial by looking back at what has been achieved, and looking ahead to the time when we will finish the fight.

By examining how far we have come in a century, we understand how much more progress we can make. I believe the future of the cancer fight holds nearly limitless possibility. You may, too, when you realize how much progress we’ve made.

When the American Cancer Society was founded in 1913, cancer was nearly a complete mystery. Champagne and carriage rides to distract from the inevitable were considered “treatment” options. The prevailing feeling was that there were few, if any, medical options. Indeed, for the entire first half of the 20th century, surgery was really the only option, and only a minority of cancer patients could be cured by surgery alone. In the years that followed, the Society played a critical role in so many advances that allowed us to begin to truly understand cancer and to define the parameters of our effort to beat it.

To take stock of our progress, the 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers was 38 percent in the late 1960s. It is now 68 percent, and projections indicate it will rise to 80 percent by 2015. By wide margins, more people now survive cancer long-term. That’s truly incredible. What’s even more exciting is that most of the current declines we’re seeing in cancer incidence and mortality are the result of the widespread implementation of established technology for diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. We have hardly begun to see the biggest payoff – the clinical application of the extraordinary molecular revolution the National Cancer Act initiated in the 1970s. Research initiated years ago can and will help accelerate our progress.

The Society’s research program, founded in 1946, has funded more than $3.8 billion in cancer research and supported 46 scientists who would go on to win the Nobel Prize. Just a few examples of the impact the program has had read like a transcript of the major events in cancer history. With even more substantive support from key benefactors, we could see the Society’s research become even more expansive and generous, as I know this will lead to even greater progress sooner. Part of doing all we can to finish the fight means leaving no promising research study unfunded. We simply can’t leave lives on the table when the next study might offer groundbreaking clues to this disease.

But no matter how successful we become at treating cancer, prevention remains essential. The Society has contributed to or led several major pathways to success with prevention. We have learned so much about what can cause cancer, which has allowed us to take steps to reduce risk. A few of our key advances include:

  • 1948 – Advocating for widespread adoption of the Pap test. This has resulted in a more than 70 percent decrease in death from cervical cancer in the US.
  • 1954 – The Society’s Hammond-Horn study confirms the link between smoking and lung cancer. This study helped launch the tobacco control movement, drastically cutting smoking rates.
  • 1973– Contributing funding to the effort to successfully demonstrate that mammography is the best tool for detecting breast cancer early.
  • 1978 – Society funding played a vital role in groundbreaking research that led to the development of tamoxifen, a drug to treat breast cancer. It was approved by the FDA to prevent breast cancer in high-risk women in 1998.
  • 1991- We learn that aspirin prevents colon cancer, based on the work of recently retired Society epidemiologist Michael Thun and colleagues, and drawn from the Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II.
  • 2000 – The FDA approves the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, a discovery to which the Society contributed.

When I first got involved with the American Cancer Society in 1970, it was projected that cancer incidence and mortality would continue to go straight up through the year 2000 and beyond. Instead, mortality rates began to decline in the early 1990s, and have continued to drop to this day. This year we celebrated a 20 percent decline in cancer death rates since that time. We’re averting more than 400 cancer deaths every day – for a total of 1.2 million since rates began to decline. This once seemed nearly impossible.

These advances and others mean that when the volunteer leaders of the American Cancer Society meet, we don’t worry about whether we can make progress – we worry about accelerating our progress. It’s a much different challenge than those faced by previous generations of Society leaders. As one of those leaders, I believe we must do all that we can to more generously support research. It is what the public expects of the American Cancer Society when they invest in our mission.

This has been quite a century. Given what has already been accomplished, I think it’s possible to think of a world with much less cancer sometime in the next century. We are planning a future where cancer is controlled like never before – and we have proof that this goal is within reach.

I believe with what we’ve learned thus far – and what we will learn tomorrow – we will definitely have the tools to finish the fight against cancer. Together, we can make this cancer’s last century. We know that silence won’t finish the fight – only action will.

Creating a Cervical Cancer-Free World for Women and Girls

December 6, 2012

Maria Blair is the Society’s national vice president, strategy.

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The global toll of cancer will continue to rise if where we live determines whether we live. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many people – especially women and girls – around the world. In the western world, the cervical cancer threat has been dramatically reduced thanks to widely available screening tests and vaccines. In developing countries, however, it is still a leading killer of women, often affecting many women in the prime of their lives – women who support families and are key economic contributors in their countries.

This project has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. The new Cervical Cancer Action Report Card, released December 6 at the GAVI conference, states that if current trends continue, by 2030, cervical cancer is expected to kill more than 474,000 women per year. More than 85 percent of these deaths are expected to be in low- and middle-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, cervical cancer rates are expected to double. In fact, in Tanzania and other parts of eastern Africa, cervical cancer was the most frequently diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society’s Global Cancer Facts & Figures (2nd Edition, 2011).At the GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations) Alliance Partners Forum currently under way in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, GAVI has just announced a new commitment  to curb the threat of this disease. With GAVI’s support, by 2020, more than 35 million girls in developing countries could have the opportunity to be immunized against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer.

We must raise awareness about the impact of cervical cancer on women and girls in the developing world and work toward a future free of this highly preventable and curable disease. Prominent African women such as the first ladies of Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa have made great strides in raising awareness of the devastating burden caused by cervical cancer. But more needs to be done via a multi-sector approach, similar to what we’ve seen in championing the control of HIV and other infectious diseases in the developing world. We must call on our government leaders to prioritize cervical cancer in their national development and health programs, and ensure that the necessary political and financial commitments are made and sustained. We must also work with and through civil society networks at the local, national, and global levels to accelerate adoption of the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls and increase access to resource-appropriate cervical cancer screening for adult women. These tools are critical “best buys” the global health community must invest in to save lives and end suffering from this disease that needlessly claims the lives of our mothers, sisters, and daughters.

Now more than ever, we have an unprecedented opportunity to prevent, detect, and treat cervical cancer, and it is time all women benefited from this knowledge. GAVI’s commitment to making the HPV vaccine more affordable and accessible to 57 of the world’s poorest countries is certainly an important step in the right direction. It’s time to recognize women’s health as a right, and not a privilege.

Be a Quitter – it’s OK. Really.

November 14, 2012

By Thomas J. Glynn, Ph.D., director, Cancer Science and Trends and director, International Cancer Control.

It is okay, even a good thing, to be a quitter – that is the key message of the 37th Great American Smokeout. And thousands, perhaps even millions, of America’s 44 million smokers will do just that on November 15 – become quitters by putting their cigarettes away for that day, and hopefully, forever.

The Smokeout has been called many things – an iconic event, a cultural touchstone, a national tradition – but for millions of Americans, it is more than that. It is a life-saving event. Whether they stopped smoking on a Smokeout day, used Smokeout to think about stopping, or used it to gently urge a friend or family member to stop smoking or think about stopping, it has marked a positive, and long-lasting, turning point in their lives.

And the Smokeout has had, and continues to have, effects beyond the United States. Every year, other countries, such as England and New Zealand, have adopted “No Smoking Days” and, increasingly, the World Health Organization’s “World No Tobacco Today”, held on the 31st of May each year, has been used by many of the 193 United Nations members to encourage smokers in these countries to be a quitter for the day, or longer.

There is little doubt that these Smokeout-style quit smoking days are very much needed. According to the recently-published fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas, nearly 1.3 billion people – 20% of the world’s population – are current cigarette smokers, consuming nearly 6 trillion cigarettes every year. Since The Tobacco Atlas also reports that nearly half of these smokers would like to quit, or have tried to, the value and life-saving potential of events such as the Great American Smokeout become obvious.

The Tobacco Atlas also reports that resources to aid smokers in their quit attempts are scarce in many countries. So, Smokeout-style quit-smoking days can also be quite important in attracting media attention and focusing that attention on the need for governments and civil society to not only encourage smokers to quit, but also to provide means for them to do so, such as well-trained healthcare providers, affordable stop-smoking medications, and smoking quitlines – all measures required under Article 14 of the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

As more and more measures are being enacted under this treaty which cause smokers to consider quitting, e.g. more widespread smokefree environments, higher cigarette taxes, the importance of Smokeout-like days which are set aside to focus attention on the enormous health, social, and economic benefits associated with quitting becomes greater. At the same time, there remain significant challenges to global tobacco control, including quitting, but none are insurmountable – despite the undermining efforts of the multinational tobacco companies – though they will require the focused effort of tobacco control advocates working together with governments and civil society to address them.

As these challenges are being addressed, let us pause and take the time today to applaud all those smokers who will take pride in being a quitter and participating in the Great American Smokeout. 

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