Thirty Years of Intense War on Cancer
Marked Advances Toward Still Distant Goal
Thirty years ago the Congress, by authorizing creation of the National Cancer Institute, launched the nation on an intensive, multi-pronged attack on the most dread of all diseases. Since 1937, several billion dollars of tax funds and voluntary contributions have been devoted to efforts to eradicate cancer. Still further expansion of government support for biomedical research, the mainstay of the war on all degenerative diseases, is called for in the administration's proposed budget for the fiscal year 1968. And President Johnson disclosed in a special message to Congress on Feb. 28 that he had ordered that a new task force be created in the National Cancer Institute of the U. S. Public Health Service to step up work on the stubborn problem of lung cancer, supplementing “the continuing work of existing task forces on leukemia, cancer chemotherapy, uterine cancer, solid tumor and breast cancer.”
A stocktaking of progress made in the whole cancer field during the past three decades reveals major advances toward an understanding of the nature of this mysterious disease and an appreciable improvement in methods of diagnosing and treating it. But a true breakthrough toward the final conquest of cancer seems to be still some distance away. In one sense the task appears more formidable today than when the great assault began. Accumulation of new knowledge and refinement of research techniques have made evident the extraordinary complexity of the task. They show cancer to be not one but many diseases.
Although certain cancer-inducing factors have been identified, others are admittedly unknown. Many causative factors apparently combine in a variety of ways under a variety of conditions that still elude scientific analysis. The basic process of cancer—conversion of a normally behaving cell into an outlaw cell—remains for the most part obscure.The hope of discovering a specific immunologic agent that would protect against the onset of cancer is only a hope, though some authorities believe with Dr. Wendell G. Scott, a past president of the American Cancer Society, that “most cancers are potentially preventable.”