Mission Possible: Revisiting the ‘War on Cancer’ 50 Years Later

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, January 1st 2020

In 1971, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, marking the beginning of the ‘War on Cancer.’ Despite initial controversy and unrealistic expectations, the Act significantly boosted funding for cancer research with the goal of eradicating the disease. Key figures like Mary Lasker played a vital role in advocating for cancer research, leading to the formation of a panel chaired by Benno Schmidt, which laid the groundwork for the National Cancer Act. This legislation spurred breakthroughs in fundamental biological science and paved the way for significant advances in cancer treatment.

The narrative surrounding the ‘War on Cancer’ highlighted the urgency to find a cure, although the need for sustained investment in fundamental research was paramount. Over the years, advancements in cell and molecular biology funded by the National Cancer Act have revolutionized cancer treatment. From discovering cancer-causing genes to the development of immunotherapy, significant progress has been made. Today, many once-deadly cancers like metastatic melanoma are curable, showcasing the enduring impact of the investments made nearly 50 years ago.

Dr. Craig B. Thompson emphasizes that the National Cancer Act was a strategic long-term investment that continues to yield substantial dividends. The Act laid the foundation for groundbreaking discoveries, such as the harnessing of the immune system to combat cancer and the development of targeted drugs for improved lung cancer control. The legacy of the National Cancer Act underscores the importance of sustained investment in fundamental research and serves as a reminder of the progress made in understanding and treating various forms of cancer.

To read the full article, visit the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center website.