Reflections on the Practical Realities of Cancer Control
Growing up in the Mississippi River Delta on an Arkansas farm, I experienced a comparatively simple life. During the 1960s in that part of the country, however, "cancer" was a death sentence. There were not many good treatment options, cancer prevention was not yet well established, and early detection was only a concept.
Complicating this picture for African Americans in the Delta was a high level of distrust of physicians and their motives. The Tuskegee Experiment story that broke in the early '70s only heightened the sense of distrust among Blacks for the medical establishment that I was working so hard to join.
In the '80s I became more aware of the complex issues surrounding health care quality. In the '90s I began to develop my career identity, learning the value of resources, innovation, and a focus on discovery. At least, that's what one learns spending 20 years in the NCI intramural program. Evidence-based medicine became the new mantra. Map and assess the human genome. Measure proteins at the cellular level. This, we taught ourselves, was how we were to conquer disease.
In 2000 I left NCI to direct the Cancer Center at West Virginia University. In this rural area, my patients (overwhelmingly Caucasian) expressed a distrust of physicians and their motives that I had not heard for many years at NCI.
In June of this year I became Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I now face new questions: What roles and responsibilities should CDC, NCI, and their partners have in reducing the cancer burden for everyone? In what ways can CDC, NCI, and our partners better work together?
In the fight against cancer, CDC and NCI share identical long-term goals. Our expertise and specific tools may differ, but the emphasis is on the science and how we can use evidence-based approaches to reduce the impact of cancer. I've had the pleasure of beginning a discussion with Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach about the ways in which NCI and CDC can improve an already productive relationship.
All of us associated with fighting cancer can be very proud. Yet we recognize that so much more can and must be done. I've worked very hard to become a part of the American medical establishment and the public health community. I want to see the day when distrust of medical professionals is a thing of the past - for all Americans. I also want to see the day when the combined benefits of science and practice reach all Americans - equally.
For more information about CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, go to http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/.
Dr. Eddie Reed