An Executive Commitment to Reducing the Cancer Burden
As the baby boomer generation marches toward retirement age, we face the very real prospect of an influx of patients into our health care system with a significant disease burden, including cancer, stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even within the existing working population, however, the disease burden is very real. Cancer, for example, is the leading cause of death in the work force today.
In addition to cancer's human toll is its very real economic toll. Cancer's price tag for the United States alone in 2003 was $180 billion, a figure that accounts for treatment costs, lost productivity, and many other factors. So it is clear that all levels of government, organizations, and corporations have a substantial stake in helping to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer.
Last week I attended a meeting of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, a group comprising corporate CEOs and state governors, formed in 2001 as part of the National Dialogue on Cancer forum, which is now called C-Change. At this meeting, the group, led by Vice Chairman of Pharmaceuticals for GlaxoSmithKline, Robert A. Ingram, agreed to launch an initiative that has been under development by a task force led by Gary Reedy, Worldwide Vice President of Biopharmaceutical Public Policy at Johnson & Johnson. The program will invite organizations to adhere to a "CEO Cancer Gold Standard,™" which is a list of five priority actions meant to reduce the cancer burden in the United States.
Adopting the CEO Cancer Gold Standard means that these executives have committed to focusing on activities in five areas that will reduce their employees' and their families' cancer risk: 1) tobacco use reduction, 2) improved access to screening and early detection, 3) improved diet and nutrition, 4) increased physical activity, and 5) easier access to quality care and clinical trials. That means taking actions like sponsoring workshops with nutrition experts for their employees, ensuring that the health plans with which they contract include recommended cancer-screening provisions and educating their employees about them, offering onsite smoking cessation classes and creating support groups to help employees stop smoking, providing free fitness club memberships and developing other incentives to encourage their employees to get regular exercise, and educating patients about cancer clinical trials and working with their health plans to eliminate or reduce co-payments and other barriers to cancer clinical trial participation.
This initiative offers an outstanding "bang for the buck." Not only will taking these actions reduce the risk of cancer, they will also reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension, to name just a few. There also is growing evidence that exercise and improved physical health can improve mental health by relieving the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The current CEO leadership group represents more than 30 million employees, spouses, and dependents, and with other organizations being invited to join, the potential impact is enormous.
At NCI, we believe very strongly in the benefits of collaboration and outreach. Whether it is our partnership with the Food and Drug Administration to bring promising treatments to patients more quickly or the caBIG initiative to virtually connect all researchers, we believe that there is strength in numbers. The CEO Cancer Gold Standard is an excellent addition to such efforts to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer and NCI is very proud to be supportive of such initiatives that transform people's lives.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach