A Shift in Strategy Needed to Win the Cancer Battle
In 1971 - one year after I became chairman of the Department of Surgery at Howard University - President Richard Nixon declared a national war on cancer. Since that time, the United States has invested billions of dollars in cancer research. The progress achieved in this area is a testament to the hard work and dedication of many researchers and health care professionals. Because of their efforts, many who face the diagnosis of cancer can be offered more hope than in years past.
However, cancer continues to impose a tremendous burden. Each and every day, 4,000 Americans are told they have cancer and an additional 1,500 lose their battle with this cunning enemy. Indeed, each cancer-related death should be viewed as a lost battle, a failure in the war we committed to winning so long ago.
In 2007 and 2008, the President's Cancer Panel heard from experts working in all areas of the National Cancer Program and concluded that a shift in strategy is needed. The Panel's recommendations, summarized below, are detailed in Maximizing Our Nation's Investment in Cancer: Three Crucial Actions for America's Health.
First, preventing and treating cancer must become a national priority. The National Cancer Program requires strong leadership from the highest level, beginning with the President of the United States. Support for cancer-related research must be strong and stable. Importantly, the emphases and design of our research programs must be carefully evaluated to ensure that our investment will translate into real progress in our clinics and our communities.
Third, the scourge of tobacco in America must end. Although the destructive effects of tobacco on health have been known for decades, it continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Ridding the nation of tobacco is the single most important action needed to dramatically reduce cancer-related morbidity and mortality. Energetic efforts in this area are particularly critical in order to oppose the massive, unrelenting onslaught of tobacco industry marketing and product development.
Cancer is a complex enemy; however, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent about the suffering inflicted by this disease. Rather than being content with incremental progress, we must harness the collective will of our leadership and our nation to create a cancer-fighting enterprise capable of achieving significant and rapid reductions in cancer morbidity and mortality.
Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr.