ASCO Statement on 50th Anniversary of Signing of National Cancer Act

By Everett E. Vokes, MD, FASCO, President, American Society of Clinical Oncology
December 16, 2021

“Fifty years ago, just a few days before the new year, former President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act (NCA), setting a clear national priority to conquer cancer.

"At the time the bill was signed into law, pioneers in our field had already made substantial discoveries but we had few curative treatments and more limited screening and prevention methods. As a result, only one of every two people diagnosed with cancer survived for at least five years. The NCA marked the beginning of a sustained investment in cancer research and energized the entire field of oncology, and today, a half century after its passage we have made great advances and shifted how we understand and treat cancer and its causes. With these insights we have transformed the way we approach cancer across the continuum, from prevention and treatment through palliative and supportive care to survivorship. As a direct result of the NCA, today more than two-thirds of people diagnosed with cancer live for at least five years—and we’re seeing even more progress every year.

"We are living in a world where incredible innovation is happening every day. We’re learning more about patients and cancer – not just from clinical trials, but from immense data about how individuals respond to treatment in the real world. With an expanded data set and more robust cancer research, we are now able to provide more precisely individualized treatment to many of our patients, which means better outcomes and longer lives, with fewer side-effects. Some of these same advances also contributed to the rapid availability of effective treatments for COVID-19 over the past year, demonstrating the remarkable ways our investment continues to return value to society.

"I am humbled and exhilarated by the possibilities in front of us, but sobered by the reality that not all individuals with cancer have benefited from the breakthroughs in prevention, early detection, treatment, and care delivery of the last half century. Progress, both in the United States and globally, is uneven, and deep-seated disparities remain. To increase equity and bring down barriers to access, we need all stakeholders – from governments to cancer care providers to industry to patients – to work collaboratively to innovate across boundaries and across the continuum of diagnosis, care, and survivorship. Some of the challenges highlighted through the COVID-19 pandemic have led to new ways to reach and care for patients that should help narrow disparities in the near future.

"Anniversaries like these give us an opportunity to reflect: given the accelerating pace of progress, what do we believe cancer care can look like 50 years from today? At ASCO, we envision a world where every cancer is prevented or cured, and every survivor is healthy.

"Working together with a renewed commitment to conquering cancer, I am optimistic that we can achieve that vision, and make cancer care more effective, safe, accessible, and equitable for each and every patient. That is how we can end cancer as we know it.”