Renewing Our Commitment to Conquering Cancer

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Congress passed a resolution in December recognizing the 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act of 1971 and the more than 12 million cancer survivors who are alive as a result of the nation’s commitment to cancer research and advances in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment.

ASCO and other cancer organizations supported the resolution that was introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Kerry (D-Mass), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan).

“It’s refreshing that in this difficult budgetary time, this Senate resolution reaffirms that support for cancer research continues to be a national priority,” said ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, MD. “We have made significant progress against cancer in the past 40 years, and we believe that with sustained support and bold action as outlined in ASCO’s research blueprint, ‘Accelerating Progress Against Cancer,’ we can make new advances against even the most difficult cancers in the years ahead.”

Historical Background

The National Cancer Act, signed in December 1971, led to the establishment of the National Cancer Program, which significantly expanded the authorities and responsibilities of the National Cancer Institute, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Through the research, training, and infrastructure programs of the NCI, cancer patient care expanded from a few pioneering research institutions to cancer centers, community hospitals, and oncology practices around the nation.

NCI-funded Research Project Grants fueled the development of new therapies and diagnostic approaches. The NCI Clinical Trials Cooperative Groups developed procedures for testing the effectiveness of new treatments through collaborative clinical research studies. The NCI Cancer Centers Program encouraged the establishment of research-driven cancer centers around the country to deliver state-of-the-art care. The NCI Community Clinical Oncology Program provided access to clinical research studies in the community setting, and spread knowledge to community hospitals and oncology practices.

Thanks to these and other federally funded programs, cancer patients in the United States can usually receive the majority of their care, with the most effective treatments available, in their local communities or nearby.

This national commitment to research and patient care has saved millions of lives and billions of dollars. It is estimated that every 1% decline in cancer mortality saves the U.S. economy $500 billion annually. From 1990 to 2007, the death rate from all cancers combined declined by 22% for men and 14% for women, resulting in 900,000 fewer deaths during that time. In 1971, the 5-year survival rate for all cancers combined was 50% for adults and 52% for children. Today, 68% of adults and 80% of children survive at least 5 years after a cancer diagnosis.

As we enter an era in which cancer treatment is becoming more personalized for patients based on unique molecular profiles, the nation’s cancer research system urgently needs modernization to gear up for the task.

ASCO Report

“Accelerating Progress Against Cancer: ASCO’s Blueprint for Transforming Clinical and Translational Cancer Research,” lays out a vision for a cancer research system that delivers on the potential for more personalized, effective cancer care. The report recommends concrete changes in three main areas:

(1) establishing a new approach to developing cancer therapies, driven by our more thorough understanding of cancer’s biology

(2) designing “smarter” clinical trials that provide answers about new treatments more quickly, with smaller groups of patients defined more by molecular characteristics of cancer, and not as much by the location of cancer in the body

(3) harnessing information technology to seamlessly integrate clinical research and patient care data, ensuring that every patient’s experience can inform research and improve care

“On this 40th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, ASCO renews our commitment to conquering cancer,” Dr. Lichter said. “ASCO will continue to work closely with others in the cancer research community to carry out the recommendations of the research blueprint, and we hope that policymakers in Washington will play an active role.” ■

© 2012. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.