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Statement About Proposed Legislation To Establish a National Cancer Program

May 11, 1971

CANCER has become one of mankind's deadliest and most elusive enemies. The conquest of cancer is one of the most important efforts of our time.

Success will test the very limits of our imagination and our resourcefulness. It will require a high sense of purpose and a strong sense of discipline.

In my message to the Congress on the State of the Union on January 22, 1971, and again in my special message to the Congress concerning a national health strategy on February 18, 1971, I expressed my determination to wage a successful campaign against this dread disease. I called upon the Congress to appropriate an additional $100 million to support such an effort. I am pleased that in recent days the Appropriations Committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have favorably viewed this request, and I am hopeful that the House--which votes today--and the Senate will both follow the committee recommendations.


Across the Nation, there is a growing consensus that our vast scientific and technological resources should promptly be marshaled in an unprecedented attack on this devastating disease.

This consensus springs both from fear and from hope.

Cancer is second only to heart disease in the number of lives it takes in this country. And the nature of its ravages makes it our most feared disease. If the present incidence of cancer were to continue, some 52 million Americans who are alive today would contract this disease someday. This means that cancer would strike one out of every four individuals in this country--and two out of every three American families. It would mean that in the next 10 years alone, 3½ million Americans would die from cancer. For many of its victims, death is a slow and painful process. And for many of their families, the personal tragedy is compounded by the financial implications of a prolonged disease.

At the same time, however, there is much reason for hope.

New vistas are now opening for further research into the treatment and prevention of cancer, the result of some remarkable advances which have been made during the past 10 years as we have multiplied many times over our fundamental knowledge in this area. Virus research, for example, has demonstrated that cancer can be produced in animals by over 110 of the nearly 1 ,000 viruses that science has identified. We have learned that animal cancers can be induced by over 1,000 chemical substances. Effective measures for preventing cancer have been developed in animals, and scientists have even demonstrated that human cancers can be prevented by avoiding exposure to certain chemicals. Other advances include new surgical procedures, more effective radiation therapy, and techniques for treating cancer with improved combinations of known drugs.

All of these developments have fueled our hopes and provided a broad frontier of possibilities for researchers in the months and years ahead. This is why I was able to suggest in my special health message to the Congress in February that "of all our research endeavors, cancer research may now be in the best position to benefit from a great infusion of resources."


The time has now come for us to put our money where our hopes are. In the first full budget developed by this Administration last year, an increase of $20 million was provided for cancer programs. For fiscal year 1972, the Administration request/or cancer programs is slightly over $332 million--an increase of $100 million from the 1971 fiscal year. If these resources are provided by the Congress, we should be able to finance a new and massive assault on cancer. If it should turn out that we need more money, however, I will not hesitate to ask the Congress to provide whatever funds can be effectively utilized. But I would also emphasize this important point: More money alone will not be enough. Money can help set the stage for faster progress, but in the end it is brainpower alone which can lead us to our goals. This means, of course, that we need to mobilize the intelligence and imagination of our doctors and scientists. And it also means that we must do a better job of tapping the Nation's administrative and organizational skills, which can help remove many roadblocks to success. Our capacities for efficient management were instrumental in our efforts to split the atom and travel to the moon. Now we need to apply those same capacities to the conquest of cancer.

This means, for one thing, that a wide variety of research activities in all parts of the country, in many areas of society, and in a great number of disciplines must be carefully coordinated. There must be as much cross-fertilization as possible between various scientific pursuits.

In the past, the National Institutes of Health have had considerable success in fostering such coordination and cooperation, and, in the process, they have earned both the respect of the scientific community and the gratitude of thousands who live happier and healthier lives because of NIH successes. It is for this reason that I have asked the Congress to establish a cancer cure program within the National Institutes of Health, where it can take the fullest advantage of other wide-ranging research.

At the same time, it is important that this program be identified as one of our highest priorities, and that its potential for relieving human suffering not be compromised by the familiar dangers of bureaucracy and red tape. For this reason, I am asking the Congress to give the cancer cure program independent budgetary status and to make its Director responsible directly to the President. This effort needs the full weight and support of the Presidency to see to it that it moves toward its goals as expeditiously as possible. I am further recommending that this Director be supported by a strong management group which has as its one goal the cure of cancer, and which can pursue that goal with single-minded tenacity.

In addition, I am recommending that a new cancer cure advisory committee be set up to provide a broad range of advice and assistance for the President and for others who lead the cancer cure program, particularly as they work to set intelligent priorities for the Nation's efforts in this area.

I am pleased to report that the detailed management and administrative mechanisms for carrying out these plans have been discussed in considerable detail within the National Institutes of Health, with experts in the field outside of government, and in the Office of the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. As these plans are translated into action, I hope that the Congress will comment on them and suggest additional ways in which we can work toward these significant goals.

I would not want to discuss the subject of cancer research, however, without offering a word of caution. Many of the experts that we consulted with told us that biomedical research is a notoriously unpredictable enterprise. Instant breakthroughs are few, and the path of progress is strewn with unexpected obstacles. As we undertake this crusade, we must put on the armor of patience, ready to persist in our efforts through a waiting period of unknown and possibly anguishing duration.

Yet I feel confident that with such funding as I have proposed, with such organizations as we are developing, with the dedicated efforts of thousands of men and women from many disciplines, and with the cooperation of the Congress and the people of the United States, we can make great strides against this terrible enemy, bringing new hope for all Americans-and indeed new hope for all the world.

Richard Nixon, Statement About Proposed Legislation To Establish a National Cancer Program Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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