From the Dean of Faculty
As a newly qualified physician, I was excited and intrigued when President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971. He called it “a national commitment for the conquest of cancer, to attempt to find a cure.” His words resonated, bolstered by the promise of a big increase in research funding, genuine government commitment, and an integrated effort of scientists and laypeople to conduct the War on Cancer. A cure would be an invaluable gift to humanity, a victory over a malicious villain.
In his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, author Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, aptly calls Nixon’s action a “quest for universal causes and universal solutions” for a very complex disease. But in 1971, the medical community already knew that cancer science was not one-dimensional, and so the War on Cancer was destined to be challenging from the day the president flicked his signature across the bill. Indeed, the effort failed to achieve its ultimate goal: No definitive cure has been found, despite tremendous progress in our understanding of how and why the disease develops.
Perhaps the failure began with how the objective was framed: What if a defined “cure” is irrelevant? What if the goal should be to transform cancer from a fatal disease to a manageable chronic condition such as diabetes?
Our understanding of cancer biology has exploded in the last 40 years, especially in the past decade. We now know that it is not caused by a single factor, as are diseases such as polio or diabetes. Cancer is a complex cellular disorder involving how genes work—and solutions will be achieved as we enhance our ability to regulate genes when they function improperly.
Although Nixon’s ultimate goal of eradicating cancer has not yet been attained, cancer statistics thankfully are trending in the right direction with respect to survivorship, screening, and diagnostics. The National Cancer Act of 1971 gave the National Cancer Institute increased responsibility and autonomy, and, above all, considerable resources to marshal against the disease. Cure or not, an influx of funds and myriad medical, scientific, and clinical experts conducting research and raising awareness have immensely benefited our position vis-à-vis cancer.
Today, our quest is to understand specific causes and offer precise solutions. Answers remain elusive and victories are hard-won, but as you will see in this issue, investigators, physicians, nurses, allied professionals, and patients are all engaged in a winning campaign at Cedars-Sinai. Together, we are beating the disease and building longer, more gratifying lives for those with cancer, their families, and our community.
Shlomo Melmed, MD
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Dean of the Medical Faculty
Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Chair in Investigative Medicine