SEER Training Modules

Cancer Facts & the War on Cancer

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. The following facts will help us understand the importance of the "War on Cancer."

More than 1.2 million Americans develop cancer each year. A new cancer is diagnosed every 30 seconds in the United States. Since 1990, nearly 15 million new cancer cases have been diagnosed. These estimates do not include carcinoma in situ (non-invasive cancer) of any site except urinary bladder and do not include the basal and squamous cell skin cancers.

Lung and prostate cancer are the top cancer killers for men in the United States. Lung and breast cancer are the top cancer killers for women in the United States. One in two men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during his lifetime. One in three women in the US will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during her lifetime.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death after heart disease in the United States. It is the primary cause of death in women between the ages of 35 and 74. About 8,000 American children will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Cancer is the chief cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 14.

If current trends continue, cancer is expected to be the leading cause of death in the United States by the year 2010. One in five persons in the US will die from cancer. Every three minutes, two people in the US die from cancer.

Based on estimates of the National Institutes of Health, overall costs for cancer in the year 2000 was $180.2 billion: $60 billion for direct medical costs (total of all health expenditures); $15 billion for indirect morbidity costs (cost of lost productivity due to illness); and $105.2 billion for indirect mortality costs (cost of lost productivity due to premature death). Cancer-related costs account for about 10 percent of the total amount spent on disease treatment in the United States. Cancer is a major national burden.

In 1970, the American people knew what they wanted -- a cure for the second-leading cause of death. President Nixon heard the voice of the people and the concerns of the medical profession. In his January 1971 State of the Union address, President Nixon made a special request for an additional $100 million to be added to the NCI budget for cancer research. In October 1971 he converted the Army's Fort Detrick, Maryland, biological warfare facility to a cancer research center. The resulting Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center eventually became an internationally recognized laboratory for cancer and AIDS research. However, President Nixon took a much bigger step when he signed the National Cancer Act into law on December 23, 1971, declaring, "I hope in the years ahead we will look back on this action today as the most significant action taken during my Administration."

After more than three decades, the "War on Cancer," declared by President Nixon in 1971 with the enactment of the National Cancer Act, is still going on in this country. The Question is: "Are we winning the war?"

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to the question. The good news is that since Nixon's initiative, there have been incredible advances in cancer detection, prevention, and treatment. Since the mid 1990s, the cancer death rate has been decreasing steadily. As one cancer experts puts it: "It's just amazing those who are making it and are living, whereas 10 years ago these same people would not have lived." A diagnosis of cancer once was the virtual equivalent of a death sentence. Today, nearly half of all cancer patients can expect to live for five or more years after the diagnosis of cancer.

However, scientists are still not able to pinpoint a "cause" for cancer. Instead, cancer researchers now believe that cancer can be triggered by many factors, such as our genetics, diet and occupation. We know that our chances of developing cancer can be significantly reduced if we choose to live a healthy lifestyle, not smoke and avoid certain foods.

Finally, while a "cure" for cancer has not yet been found, scientists are more confident than ever that further breakthroughs in cancer detection and therapy are not far away, allowing us to effectively control the disease.