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Celebrating 99 Years of Saving Lives

May 22, 2012

By John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer

At the American Cancer Society, we know that every birthday is a reason to celebrate. That’s why today – our 99th birthday as an organization – we’re especially pleased to celebrate the lifesaving progress we’ve made together.

We have definitely come a long way since the American Cancer Society was founded in 1913. Then, cancer was an almost certain death sentence. The disease was shrouded in mystery and carried a powerful stigma that meant people diagnosed often kept their true condition a secret. Treatment focused mainly on pain management and quality of life – and could include anything from morphine and champagne to carriage rides in the park.

How very far we have come.

Today, the majority of people survive cancer – and many thrive. The number of cancer survivors in the United States is rising steadily – and by 2008 neared an incredible 12 million people. A disease that once was spoken of only in whispers is today loudly proclaimed on everything from T-shirts to television programs. And most importantly, there is a powerful spirit of hope that underlies the cancer fight – hope not just for dropping cancer death rates but for the true elimination of this disease as a major health threat.

In just a few days, I celebrate a “birthday” of my own – my 40th year working with the American Cancer Society, 20 of those as chief executive. I have never been prouder to be at the helm of this great organization – nor have I been as optimistic about the future of the cancer fight. I believe the hopeful side of cancer has truly never been more hopeful.

Today, we have opportunities we once could only dream of. While the American Cancer Society has been an important part of more than 15 years of decline in cancer death rates in the U.S. and more than 1 million cancer deaths avoided since rates began to fall in the early 1990s, I believe we can and must do more to further this fight in the coming years.

Today, we know that about half of cancer deaths are preventable. Thanks in part to the $3.8 billion the American Cancer Society has invested in cancer research over the years, we know more today about major cancer risk factors and their impact. We know about one-third of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year can be attributed to poor diet and physical inactivity, while one-third are caused by tobacco use.

We know more about preventing, detecting, and treating cancer than ever before, and are armed with the tools and resources to do so. And we know where and how to intervene to help save more lives in the future, especially around the world as the majority of the cancer burden shifts to low- and middle-income nations. But we have a long way to go before we can confidently say we’re doing all we can – and applying all we know.

We also know we cannot finish this fight alone. As we approach our 100th birthday celebration next year, we at the American Cancer Society need your help now more than ever to continue this lifesaving progress.

This month is a terrific time to get involved in a Relay For Life® event in your community, a movement that unites people in more than 6,000 communities around the world to fight cancer. Or help us celebrate 99 years of saving lives by making a commitment to improve your own health – whether by quitting smoking, getting active, eating better, or scheduling that health check-up you’ve been putting off.

Each day of our 99 years, thanks to people like you, we have gotten closer to a world with less cancer – and more birthdays. Here’s to celebrating that progress today – and to one day soon making that vision a reality.

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