The War on Cancer A Progress Report for Skeptics

Source: CSI

N0009820 MRI scan; brain metastases from skin cancer (melanoma)In 1971, President Nixon and Congress declared war on cancer. Since then, the federal government has spent well over $105 billion on the effort (Kolata 2009b). What have we gained from that huge investment? David Nathan, a well-known professor and administrator, maintains in his book The Cancer Treatment Revolution (2007) that we have made substantial progress. However, he greatly overestimates the potential of the newer so-called “smart drugs.” Re­searchers Psyrri and De Vita (2008) also claim important progress. However, they cherry-pick the cancers with which there has been some progress and do not discuss the failures. Moreover, they only discuss the last decade rather than a more balanced view of 1950 or 1975 to the present.

On the other hand, Gina Kolata pointed out in The New York Times that the cancer death rate, adjusted for the size and age of the population, has decreased by only 5 percent since 1950 (Kolata 2009a). She argues that there has been very little overall progress in the war on cancer.

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