by Mona Jhaveri - February 22, 2016

The war on cancer refers to our national effort to find cures for cancer through increased research, the improved understanding of cancer biology and the development of effective therapies.

In honor of President’s Day, it is important to acknowledge that our war officially began with a President – President Nixon – in 1971 when he signed the National Cancer Act, a legislation that aimed to “eradicate cancer as a major cause of death.” The intention was to strengthen the National Cancer Institute (NCI) through increased funding for cancer research programs. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health whose main role is to coordinates the U.S. National Cancer Program and to conduct and support research.

Since then, the war on cancer has remained a national priority. In 1971 the budget for the NCI was $200 million, today it is $5.2 billion.

More recently President Obama’s administration has taken the fight to a new level. In 2009, President Obama’s economic stimulus package significantly increased funds to the NCI, perhaps motivated by his mother’s battle with ovarian cancer. He said “now is the time to commit ourselves to waging a war against cancer as aggressive as the war cancer wages against us.”

From a Presidents Day perspective, it is a wonderful coincidence that President Jimmy Carter, who was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma, was successfully treated by immunotherapy and declared cancer-free by the end of the year. Immunotherapy is a treatment strategy that has gained new prominence. It works by harnessing the power of the immune system to help it identify and knock out cancer cells. Such targeted medicines are considered a huge advancement over the less specific mechanisms of chemotherapy because they are safer, less toxic and ultimately more effective. Needless to say, President Carter’s life was saved and is considered a “win” attributable to Presidents who had the vision and courage to fuel the cancer research frontier.

Early this year, President Obama announced a new cancer initiative – called “cancer moon shot,” in efforts to cure cancer “once and for all.”  President Obama pledged $1 billion dollars to the NCI to augment cancer research. And so the fight continues…

We honor the presidents of our country who have stood behind the fight on cancer, put their thoughts into action, and given us hope.

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