Reflections On the 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act

Benno C. Schmidt, Sr.
Benno C. Schmidt Sr. was the first chairman of the President's Cancer Panel, from February 1972 - February 1978.
  • "We are not in search of a magic bullet, but rather are attempting to mobilize the best brains available in this nation and the world to ensure that they have an opportunity to make their maximum contribution to the cause of solving the cancer problem and of minimizing the time required for the solutions to benefit the cancer patient."

    -Benno C. Schmidt Sr., first chair of the President’s Cancer Panel

When President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, the United States put in motion a coordinated system of federal and nonfederal organizations and partners to address the nation’s cancer burden. The act expanded the authority of the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to plan and develop a National Cancer Program that included NCI, other research institutes, and other federal and nonfederal programs. The same act also expanded NCI to its current form and provided funding for fifteen additional cancer research centers, local control programs, and an international cancer research data bank. The act also established the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP).

Government, Healthcare Providers, Individuals
Figure 1. Representation of the National Cancer Program and its many stakeholders.

The PCP is a committee of three members who are appointed by the President to advise on the progress of the National Cancer Program and identify barriers to progress. Despite the close connection the panel has to NCI, the PCP’s work is independent and has a much broader scope. This can be seen in the diverse subjects that the PCP has discussed over the last 50 years. Some examples include:

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed existing challenges in our health care systems and caused new ones, especially regarding cancer screening. 2021 marks the somber occasion of COVID-19 becoming the number one cause of death in the United States. However, reflecting on the 50th Anniversary of the National Cancer Act and the successes we have achieved, it reminds us that coordinated work to improve research and access to prevention, screening, and treatment can have transformative results.