We Americans have a tradition of rising to a challenge. We fought for and won our independence. Later, when the Civil War tore the country apart, we bound up our wounds and created a stronger nation. And when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made Earth satellite, we responded by putting astronauts on the moon in little more than a decade.
But when it comes to cancer, there is no Sputnik, no single shocking event that galvanizes our response. Cancer is so common - half of all men and a third of women will be diagnosed - that our society has come to think of it as almost normal. Fortunately, "normal" can change over time. When I was a child, the 4-minute mile was considered a nearly impossible achievement. Yet once Roger Bannister, a young medical student, broke through that psychological barrier, 16 other runners beat the 4-minute "limit" within a year.
Under the leadership of Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, NCI has outlined a program to eliminate cancer as a cause of death and suffering by 2015. While a partnership of government, academic, and private industry researchers will lead that effort, there's also an important role for those of us who are patients.
Other keys to finding cures faster include full implementation of the National Health Information Network and expansion of the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid initiative to link cancer researchers nationwide. Technology can also bridge the gap between research and care by putting patients in the center of the process and giving them electronic access to and control over their clinical data.
More than 30 years after the National Cancer Act, we've made some important progress. Cancer patients like Bob Dole and John Kerry have run for President and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has shown that even metastasized cancer need not be a barrier to great achievement. Yet as a society, we can do more - much more. For the first time in history, we hold the potential of eliminating cancer's burden. It will take a monumental effort, but the rewards will benefit all future generations.