Thirty years ago, confidence in US science and technology soared. A victory in the space race and two decades of steady economic expansion drove expectations for US achievement ever skyward.
Philanthropist Mary Lasker saw an opportunity to turn these resources against the scourge of cancer. With Texas Sen Ralph Yarborough and other proponents, Lasker spearheaded a movement to establish a sweeping national campaign against cancer.
Their efforts culminated in the National Cancer Act of 1971, signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 23. The act greatly augmented the budget and independence of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md. Breaking from precedent, NCI directors became presidential appointees with the authority to propose budgets directly to Congress. With these provisions secured, Nixon declared the "conquest of cancer a national crusade," spurring widespread expectations for a quick victory.
Vastag B. Samuel Broder, MD, Reflects on the 30th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act. JAMA. 2001;286(23):2929-2931. doi:10.1001/jama.286.23.2929