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Renewing Our Commitment to the War on Cancer

December 19, 2011

Dr. Seffrin marks the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act.

Last week the U.S. Senate passed a resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, the law that launched what came to be known as the “war on cancer.” The resolution celebrates the success we’ve seen in the ensuing decades, and while we haven’t yet achieved the “conquest of cancer” that President Nixon hoped for when he signed the law in 1971, there has indeed been much to celebrate. I want to mark this occasion by pointing out some of the most critical accomplishments the National Cancer Act has made possible, and laying out a plan that I believe can accelerate the progress.

First, the good news, and there is plenty of it:

  • People with cancer stand a far better chance of surviving the disease today than they did in 1971.
  • The five-year survival rate for all cancers has increased by more than 33 percent since the mid-1970s.
  • There are more than 12 million cancer survivors in America today.
  • Cancer death rates started dropping in the early 1990s and have continued to decline every year since.
  • Nearly 900,000 lives – 350 per day – have been saved that would have otherwise been lost to cancer.
  • The US government is the largest funder of cancer research in the world.

Despite all this, cancer remains one of our most dire public health burdens, taking some 1,500 lives each day. With half of men and one-third of women projected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, we simply must prevail against the disease.

Last week the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) released a statement and a blog post asking elected officials to celebrate this anniversary by making cancer a national priority again.  If we can recapture the enthusiasm of 1971 and renew our national commitment to the goals set forth in the National Cancer Act, I believe a three-pronged effort focusing on research, prevention, and access to care will be the way to maximize our success. In short, we must fund new discoveries and help them move from the lab to the doctor’s office, educate people on proven ways to reduce their risk of cancer, and ensure that cancer screening and treatment are available to everybody.

Forty years into this war on cancer, we have much to be proud of, but much work ahead.

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