Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit China. He also created the Environmental Protection Agency. But when he signed the National Cancer Act into law in 1971, he vowed that this action would remain the most significant contribution of his presidency.
On Dec. 23, the nation will mark the 40th anniversary of this opening salvo of the “War on Cancer.”
The National Cancer Act boosted support of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), enabling the NCI to more effectively carry out the national research fight against cancer.
Discoveries made in the past four decades have saved lives: The American Association for Cancer Research reports a 22 percent drop in cancer deaths among men and a 14 percent drop among women in the past 20 years alone, resulting in nearly 900,000 fewer cancer-related deaths during that time.
Some significant cancer research breakthroughs occurred at City of Hope. Among them, work that led to a new generation of drugs. In 1983, City of Hope’s Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., and Shmuel Cabilly, Ph.D., working in collaboration with scientists at Genentech, first demonstrated that antibodies can be made using recombinant DNA technology — technology later used in the “smart” cancer drugs Herceptin, Rituxan and Avastin.
Scientists at City of Hope also confirmed the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The medical establishment had long assumed a connection, but it remained unproven until 1996. That’s when Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D., Lester M. and Irene C. Finkelstein Chair in Biology, discovered and described the molecular activity that conclusively tied smoking to the disease.
City of Hope also was one of the first six centers in the country to perform bone marrow transplants, with the first procedure taking place in 1976. Early in 2011, the institution performed its 10,000th transplant, a milestone that only a few centers in the world have achieved. City of Hope’s Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, has helped advance and expand the procedure as a treatment option to an ever-growing population of cancer patients.
And these are just a few of the most visible achievements.
“We have much yet to do, and every day in our labs and clinics, our scientists, physicians and researchers, supported by all of our staff, are gathering data and making the findings that lead to new treatments,” said Michael A. Friedman, City of Hope’s president, chief executive officer and holder of the Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair. “Most of our discoveries will never make the news, but they have made essential contributions that deliver on a 40-year-old promise to find answers for cancer patients.”
Major advances in the “War on Cancer”
The National Cancer Act will mark its 40th anniversary on Dec. 23, and there is much cause to celebrate. The legislation gave cancer research a significant boost and spawned numerous groundbreaking achievements, including:
- 1978 — U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer
- 1985 — Surgical removal of a breast tumor (lumpectomy) plus radiation shown to be as effective for breast cancer as complete removal of the breast (mastectomy)
- 1996 — First clear decline in cancer deaths reported
- 2001 — FDA approves Gleevec, dubbed a “magic bullet” for chronic myelogenous leukemia
- 2007 to 2008 — Breast cancer incidence declines
The journal Science lists more notable events in cancer research in their special issue commemorating four decades of the “War on Cancer.”