National Cancer Act of 1937

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Dedication of the first six NIH buildings by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940.

Credit: National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) was established through the National Cancer Act of 1937, signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Its passage represented the culmination of nearly three decades of efforts to formalize the U.S. government’s place in cancer research.

The act created the NCI as an independent research institute within the Public Health Service by merging the Office of Cancer Investigations at Harvard University and a pharmacology division of NIH. The NCI became the federal government’s principal agency for conducting research and training on the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. The NCI was also tasked with assisting and promoting similar research at other public and private institutions, particularly through reviewing and approving grant applications to support promising cancer research. Finally, the act established the National Advisory Cancer Council, now known as the National Cancer Advisory Board. The act represents the first time that Congress provided funding to address a non-communicable disease.

SUMMARY

Senate Bill 2067 - Enacted August 5, 1937 (Public Law 244)

  • Established the National Cancer Institute and made it the federal government’s principal agency for conducting research and training on the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
  • It also called upon the NCI to assist and promote similar research at other public and private institutions.

Committee Report

Committee Report No. 1281 (July 25, 1937)-

The Interstate and Foreign Commerce submitted the following to accompany the House companion bill HR.7931. 75th Congress, 1st Session.

Excerpts from Committee Views

  • “The Committee feels that the principal of grants-in-aid has a sound and substantial basis and is of the greatest assistance in stimulating and creating research institutions outside of those in the federal government.”
  • “The committee definitely feels that there are not enough diagnostic and treatment centers in the U.S. where patients may obtain adequate treatment.” 
  • “This bill provides training facilities where scientists could be brought and given instruction either in methods of research or in methods of diagnosis and treatment is essential to the full development of cancer control work.”

Bill Text

Text of the Act of August 5, 1937, creating the National Cancer Institute
and authorizing an appropriation therefore

PUBLIC NO. 244
75TH CONGRESS
CHAPTER 565-1 ST SESSION
S. 2067

An act to provide for, foster, and aid in coordinating research relating to cancer; to establish the National Cancer Institute; and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That for the purposes of conducting researches, investigations, experiments, and studies relating to the cause, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer; assisting and fostering similar research activities by other agencies, public and private; and promoting the coordination of all such researches and activities and the useful application of their results, with a view to the development and prompt widespread use of the most effective methods of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer, there is hereby established in the Public Health Service a division which shall be known as the National Cancer Institute (hereinafter referred to as the "Institute").

SEC. 2. The Surgeon General of the Public Health Service (hereinafter referred to as the "Surgeon General") is authorized and directed for the purposes of this Act and subject to its provisions, through the Institute and in cooperation with the National Cancer Advisory Council hereinafter established?

(a) To conduct, assist, and foster researches, investigations, experiments, and studies relating to the cause, prevention, and methods of diagnosis and treatment of cancer;

(b) To promote the coordination of researches conducted by the Institute and similar researches conducted by other agencies, organizations, and individuals;

(c) To procure, use, and lend radium as hereinafter provided;

(d) To provide training and instruction in technical matters relating to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer;

(e) To provide fellowships in the Institute from funds appropriated OT donated for such purpose;

(f) To secure for the Institute consultation services and advice of cancer experts from the United States and abroad; and

(g) To cooperate with State health agencies in the prevention, control, and eradication of cancer.

SEC. 3. There is hereby created the National Advisory Cancer Council (herein referred to as the "Council"), to consist of six members to be appointed by the Surgeon General with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, and of the Surgeon General, who shall be chairman of the Council. The six appointed members shall be selected from leading medical or scientific authorities who are outstanding in the study, diagnosis, or treatment of cancer in the United States. Each appointed member shall hold office for a term of three years, except that ( I ) any member appointed to fill a vacancy occurring prior to the expiration of the term for which his predecessor was appointed shall be appointed for the remainder of such term, and (2) the terms of office of the members first taking office shall expire, as designated by the Surgeon General at the time of appointment, two at the end of the first year, two at the end of the second year, and two at the end of the third year after the date of the first meeting of the Council. No appointed member shall be eligible to serve continuously for more than three years but shall be eligible for reappointment if he has not served as a member of the Council at any time within twelve months immediately preceding his reappointment. Each appointed member shall receive compensation at the rate of $25 per day during the time spent in attending meetings of the Council and for the time devoted to official business of the Council under this Act, and actual and necessary traveling and subsistence expenses while away from his place of residence upon official business under this Act.

SEC. 4. The Council is authorized:

(a) To review research projects or programs submitted to or initiated by it relating to the study of the cause, prevention, or methods of diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and certify approval to the Surgeon General for prosecution under section 2 (a) hereof any such projects which it believes show promise of making valuable contributions to human knowledge with respect to the cause, prevention, or methods of diagnosis and treatment of cancer;

(b) To collect information as to studies which are being carried on in the United States or any other country as to the cause, prevention, and methods of diagnosis and treatment of cancer, by correspondence or by personal investigation of such studies, and with the approval of the Surgeon General make available such information through the appropriate publications for the benefit of health agencies and organizations (public or private), physicians, or any other scientists, and for the information of the general public;

(c) To review applications from any university, hospital, laboratory, or other institution, whether public or private, or from individuals, for grants-in-aid for research projects relating to cancer, and certify to the Surgeon General its approval of grants-in-aid in the cases of such projects which show promise of making valuable contributions to human knowledge with respect to the cause, prevention, or methods of diagnosis or treatment of cancer;

(d) To recommend to the Secretary of the Treasury for acceptance conditional gifts pursuant to section 6; and

(e) To make recommendations to the Surgeon General with respect to carrying out the provisions of this Act.

SEC. 5. In carrying out the provisions of section 2 the Surgeon General is authorized:

(a) With the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, to purchase radium, from time to time, without regard to section 3709 of the Revised Statutes; to make such radium available for use in carrying out the purposes of this Act; and, for such consideration and subject to such conditions as the Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe, to lend such radium to institutions, now existing or hereafter established in the United States for the study of the cause, prevention, or methods of diagnosis or treatment of cancer, or for the treatment of cancer;

(b) To provide the necessary facilities where training and instruction may be given in all technical matters relating to diagnosis and treatment of cancer to Service, in accordance with applicable law, such commissioned officers as may be necessary to aid in carrying out the provisions of this Act.

(c) This Act shall not be construed as superseding or limiting (1) the functions, under any other Act, of the Public Health Service or any other agency of the United States relating to the study of the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer; or (2) the expenditure of money therefor.

(d) The Surgeon General with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to make such rules and regulations as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act.

(e) The Surgeon General shall include in his annual report for transmission to Congress a full report of the administration of this Act, including a detailed statement of receipts and disbursements.

(f) This Act shall take effect thirty days after the date of its enactment.

(g) This Act may be cited as the "National Cancer Institute Act."

Approved, August 5, 1937

  • Posted: February 16, 2016

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