NOVEMBER 5, 1957
HYDE PARK—The annual meeting of the American Cancer Society in New York last week was especially interesting to me because of the emphasis placed this year on fundamental research. The retiring president of the society, Dr. David A. Wood of the University of California, in his address called for increased basic research, stressing the importance of "the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake." He seemed to feel that this was essential for progress in the future in medical, biological and related physical sciences.
In order to bring some of the things that we ought to know about research in cancer to your attention, I can do no better than to quote from Dr. Wood's excellent speech. "Recently we had, unfortunately, a good deal of publicity about the government's National Research Program in the field of defense," said Dr. Wood, "and there has been much discussion as to why the Russians developed a satellite well in advance of us. Among the reasons advanced has been that our defense research has been devoted very largely to the application of basic knowledge rather than to the development of such knowledge.
"From time to time, over a period of years, some rather prominent people have uttered derogatory statements about the development of fundamental basic information which may not at the moment have any direct pertinency toward the particular problem involved. Somehow, the same situation exists in the field of medical research. Many of the developments of our research program are based upon fundamental knowledge developed in the biological laboratories. In order to have a truly forward-looking and effective research program we must constantly be developing the basic truths on which results depend.
"In event the answer to cancer in all its many types and subtypes were to be found tomorrow, we would still have the very real problem—almost equally important with that of research—of translating the answer to the 165,000 doctors who are practicing medicine in this country. A greater task is that of persuading the 170 million Americans to adopt the concept of periodic health examinations and for those in whom cancer is found to take the steps necessary for prompt and adequate treatment.
"As of now, however, even in the present state of knowledge, we have the tremendous opportunity of saving the lives of 75,000 persons who die each year of cancer only because they do not go to their doctors in time."
It was a shock to me, and I am sure it is to many others, that so many die of cancer every year who might be saved if we were still not suffering partly from ignorance and partly from unwillingness to recognize soon enough the signs that ought to warn us of the threat of cancer. Let us hope that we can spread the knowledge more rapidly than we have in the past so that we will save more people from this disease, which as yet is not fully conquered.