NIH Press Release
National Cancer Institute

Monday, Dec. 16, 1996

Garry Curtis or Kelli Miller
Hager Sharp Inc.
(202) 842-3600
NCI Press Office
(301) 496-6641

25th Anniversary: The National Cancer Program

On Dec. 23, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, the legislation that made cancer research a high national priority. Twenty five years later, in November 1996, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced that the cancer death rate in the United States has peaked and, for the first time, begun to fall.

"The decline in the cancer death rate is the news we have been waiting for," said NCI Director Richard Klausner, M.D. "Our nation's investment is paying off by saving lives. The 1990s will be remembered as the decade when we measurably turned the tide against cancer."

Cancer continues to be a tremendous burden on Americans, but progress over the last 25 years has been significant. Although the numbers vary depending on how the data are analyzed, the following patterns are clear:

"We have made progress, but we dare not risk complacency," said Klausner. "Death rates for some cancers, notably lung cancer in women and lymphatic cancers in men and women, continue to rise. And, the burden of cancer is not shared equally in our society - African Americans, for example, have a 30 percent higher cancer mortality rate than Caucasians."

The most important advance in the last 25 years has been in our understanding of the fundamental biology of cancer. All cancers arise as the result of the slow accumulation of changes in one of the trillions of cells in the body, in the instructions that guide the behavior of the cell.

Building on this advance in understanding, the NCI has identified areas of unprecedented cancer research opportunities which will use science and technology to read the true nature of the cancer cell and find ways to apply that knowledge to diagnosis and treatment. "New investments are required to capitalize on these new opportunities to begin to develop better methods of prevention, detection and diagnosis, and treatment," according to Klausner.

More than 40 percent of Americans will develop cancer in their lifetime; over 20 percent of Americans will die of cancer. "We have made strong progress in our first 25 years," concluded Klausner. "We have promising opportunities in research. While progress depends on research, research alone will not reduce the burden of cancer. We need a health care system that is available to all and public policies that are consistent with the prevention, detection and best treatment of cancer."

Dr. Klausner will be available for a teleconference interview on Friday, Dec. 20, at 10:45 a.m. EST. Dial 1-800-288-9626 to connect to the conference call.

A media kit and b-roll footage providing an overview of progress and opportunities in cancer research is available on request.

The Cancer Information Service provides a nationwide telephone service for cancer patients and their families, the public, and health care professionals. The toll-free number is 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237); services are provided in English and Spanish. People with TTY equipment may call 1-800-332-8615.

This document is available through the NCI's CancerNet services on the Web (, also on NCI's home page at (,and through Cancer Fax (dial 301-402-5874 from the handset on your fax machine).