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American Cancer Society Accomplishments 1946-2004
Hope. Progress. Answers.

1946-present The Society has funded 40 Nobel Prize winners, primarily in the beginning of their careers.

1946 The Society research program begins with $1 million raised by Mary Lasker. Nearly $3 billion has been raised since the inception of the research program.

1959 The Society launches the first cancer prevention study (CPS I). Data from this study and the subsequent 1982 study involves two million people and has been used in more than 100 other research studies.

1960 The Society begins a crusade to gain acceptance of the Pap test. The death rate from cancer of the uterine cervix has decreased more than 70% due to general acceptance of this procedure.

1960 The Society takes a leading role in challenging and eliminating tobacco advertising.

1969 The Society launches the Reach to Recovery® program, through which trained breast cancer survivors offer hope and help women face the disease.

1970s The Society awards $3 million for the development and testing of the first biological therapy, alpha interferon, now used in the treatment of some forms of leukemia and childhood Wilms' tumor of the kidney.

1971 The Society plays a leading role in the passage of the National Cancer Act, which is considered the most dramatic piece of health legislation ever enacted. It enables an increase in funding for federal cancer research to more than $4 billion per year today.

1972 The Society awards a grant to Judah Folkman, MD, to study blood vessel formation in tumors.

1976 The California Division of the American Cancer Society gets nearly one million smokers to quit for the day, marking the first Great American Smokeout®, which goes nationwide the next year.

1979 The Society begins I Can Cope®, a group program conducted by trained health care professionals for cancer patients and their families and friends.

1980 Early detection guidelines for breast cancer are developed by the American Cancer Society.

1981 Society Research Professor Robert Weinberg, PhD, isolates the her-2/neu oncogene from a rat brain tumor.

1981 Cancer camps for children open.

1985 The first American Cancer Society Relay For Life® is held in Tacoma, Washington. By 2003, the event is held in nearly 3,400 communities nationwide and raises more than one billion dollars for the Society's cancer research, education, advocacy, and patient services programs.

1989 The Society teams with the Personal Care Products Council (formerly the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, or CFTA) to produce Look Good ... Feel Better®, a program which helps women deal with the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.

1990 The Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, public services, public accommodations, and transportation, is passed. Persons with cancer or a history of cancer are protected under this law.

1992-1998 The Society spends over $100 million in research grants for breast cancer research. The Society currently spends more on breast cancer than on any other solid tumor site and is the largest non-governmental, not-for-profit source of support for breast cancer research.

1993 The Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles employees to take leave to care for a family member with a serious illness is passed. This allows family members of cancer patients to be able to participate in their care without jeopardizing their own jobs.

1993 The American Cancer Society's first Making Strides Against Breast Cancer® event is held in Boston. Between 1993 and 2002, the event generates more than $100 million for breast cancer research and services nationwide.

1994 The Society's Man to Man® program begins, offering support and information to men with prostate cancer.

1994 Reach to Recovery—a program where breast cancer survivors visit those who have been newly diagnosed to offer hope and help—celebrates its 25th anniversary; more than13,000 volunteers are involved.

1995 With support from the Foundation and the vision of volunteer Lana Rosenfeld, "tlc" Tender Loving Care® magalog is published. It provides cancer patients and survivors with a wide variety of affordable products, such as wigs, hats, and prostheses.

1995 The Society launches the Behavioral Research Center, developed to conduct high quality original research in areas of particular relevance to the goals of the Society. This research is intended to contribute to the understanding of behavioral factors affecting cancer prevention, control, and recovery.

1996 Society guidelines on diet, nutrition and cancer affirm that one-third of all cancer deaths can be prevented through healthy eating and physical activity.

1996 The Health Insurance Reform and Accountability Act (Kassebaum/Kennedy) passes, which allows workers who lose or change jobs to buy health insurance for themselves and their families, and which limits the ability of insurance companies to refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions or genetic predispositions to disease.

1997 The first overall downturn in cancer mortality rates is documented (source: NCI)
  • Overall cancer death rates fell 1.6% between 1991-95.
  • Lung cancer for men fell 6.7% between 1991-95.
  • Colorectal cancer fell 18.6% between 1973-93 and 5.4% between 1991-95.
  • Breast cancer fell 6.3% between 1991-95.
  • Prostate cancer fell 6.2% between 1991-95.
  • Testicular cancer fell 65.7% between 1973-93.
  • Hodgkin's disease fell 58.4% between 1973-93.
  • Leukemia in children dropped 52.9% between 1973-93.
  • Cancers in children (up to age 14) fell 44.4% between 1973-93.

1997 The Society launches Reach to Recovery early support visits (pre-operative support for women who have a suspicious mammogram, or who have just been diagnosed and are looking at treatment options).

1998 First overall decrease in cancer incidence rates is documented; overall cancer incidence rates fell 5.7% between 1991-95.

1999 To spread the message of prevention, the Society doubles its resources available on the Web site and extends the cancer information line to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

1999 The Society launches Y2Kidz.org, an online think tank for youth designed to give insight into what kids think about issues related to cancer and its prevention.

1999 The Society works with the Cancer Research Foundation of America and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable to have March 2000 declared the first official National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by the US Senate.

1999 To raise awareness for prostate cancer among men in the African-American community, the Society conducts a national campaign featuring Harry and Shari Belafonte.

1999 The Society partners with 100 Black Men of America, Inc. in an aggressive outreach program called Let's Talk About It: A Prostate Health Education Program for African-American Men.

1999 The Society celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Reach to Recovery program by conducting Expressions of Courage, a national juried art competition designed to celebrate the spirit of breast cancer survivorship. The winning piece, "Light, Grace, and Spirit," by Mississippi artist Paula Temple, vividly depicts the breast cancer journey and has been exhibited nationwide and featured on national television, furthering awareness of breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

1999 The Society teams with AirLifeLine, a national, nonprofit organization that provides free air transportation to patients who cannot afford the cost of travel to medical facilities.

1999 Relay For Life, the American Cancer Society's signature activity, takes place in more than 2,500 communities across the country.

2000 In March, the Society takes part in the first National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, initiating a multiyear strategy to educate the public and encourage men and women aged 50 and older to get checked. The Society campaign includes the "Things to Do Now That I'm 50" advertisement series, featuring role models 50 or older, such as former professional basketball star Julius "Dr. J" Erving and fashion designer Vera Wang.

2000 The Society creates the first national paid awareness campaign specifically targeted to promote its breast cancer programs and services.

2000 The Society launches the Cancer Survivors Network, created by and for cancer survivors and families to address their need to connect with others, who have been touched by cancer, share experiences, and support one another.

2000 Tobacco farmers sue cigarette makers for $69 billion, claiming manufacturers conspired to undo federal systems regulating tobacco prices.

2001 The Society launches a new and improved Web site (www.cancer.org).

2001 The Society celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Great American Smokeout.

2001 Through its extramural research grants program, the Society (as of July 2001) has funded 184 research projects relating to breast cancer, totaling almost $62 million.


1946-1993 Smoking drops from 45% of the population to 25%.

1946 Wendell Stanley, PhD, becomes the first Society-funded researcher to win the Nobel Prize (for crystallizing a virus).

1947 Society-funded Sidney Farber, MD, obtains remission in childhood leukemia with an antifolate drug, aminopterin, the first successful chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Chemotherapy saves thousands of lives each year.

1953 Society-funded James Watson, PhD with Francis Crick, PhD, establishes the double helical structure of DNA, for which he is awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.

1953 Radiation therapy is first used to ease pain from cancer and later shown to produce 40% of all cures.

1954 The Society's Hammond-Horn study confirms the link between smoking and lung cancer.

1955 Society-funded Charles Huggins, PhD, pioneers early work showing that both prostate and breast cancer are related to sex hormones. He receives the Nobel Prize in 1966.

1955 Society-funded Emil J. Freireich, MD, and colleagues design the first scientific clinical trial for combination cancer chemotherapy; by 1962 they achieve a 15% cure rate in childhood leukemia.

1959 The Society's Cancer Prevention Study I (CPS I) begins, which shows that cigarette smoking leads to early death from lung cancer.

1960 The Society crusades to gain acceptance of the Pap test, developed by George Papanicolaou, MD, PhD. The widespread adoption of this simple test has resulted in more than a 70% decrease in mortality from cancer of the uterine cervix.

1962 Hamilton Smith, MD, and Daniel Nathans, MD, discover restriction enzymes. Although the importance of this discovery was not realized for 10 years, it was crucial to the later development of genetic engineering and gene cloning. Both Society-funded researches win the Nobel Prize in 1978.

1966 Elwood Jensen, MD, and Eugene deSombre, PhD, describe the existence of protein receptors that bind to sex hormones and carry out their functions.

1966 Henry Lynch, MD, describes the first hereditary cancer family syndrome.

1968 Donald Pinkel, MD uses high-dose radiation to prevent central nervous system cancer relapses and achieves a 35% cure rate in childhood leukemia.

1970s Epidemiological evidence analyzed by Brian McMahon, MD, shows that breast cancer is related to the length of a woman's lifetime exposure to reproductive hormones.

1970s Joseph Bertino, MD, and Robert Schimke, MD, work out the mechanisms of drug resistance.

1970 The first cancer-causing gene, or oncogene, is identified by Society grantee Peter Vogt, MD, in a chicken tumor virus.

1971 The Society plays a leading role in the passage of the National Cancer Act, which is considered the most dramatic piece of health legislation ever enacted. It enables an increase in funding for federal cancer research to more than $4 billion per year today.

1973 Society-funded Paul Berg, PhD, clones the first gene (Nobel Prize in 1980).

1974 Society-funded V. Craig Jordan, PhD, shows that tamoxifen can prevent breast cancer in rats by binding to the estrogen receptor.

1976 Society-funded J. Michael Bishop, MD, and Harold Varmus, MD, discovers oncogenes in normal DNA, suggesting that a normal gene already present in the cell has the potential of becoming an oncogene. They receive a Nobel Prize in 1989.

1978 Society-funded Tony Hunter, PhD, and Bart Sefton, PhD, provide the first clue to the biological function of an oncogene, in this case an enzyme involved in cellular communication.

1978 Society-funded Clara Bloomfield, MD, demonstrates chromosome rearrangement in leukemia and opened up the field of cytogenetics.

1978 Tamoxifen is approved by the FDA for treating estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Society-funded Bernard Fisher, MD, Richard Love, MD, and V. Craig Jordan, PhD, develop and carry out the first trial of tamoxifen to prevent recurrence in breast cancer survivors.

1978 Society-funded Walter Gilbert, MD, (and Maxine Sanger, PhD), develop a technique to sequence DNA. They receive the Nobel Prize in 1980.

1979 Society-funded Robert Weinberg, PhD, demonstrates the first biologically active human oncogene from a human bladder cancer; more than 50 human oncogenes are known today.

1979 Society-funded Arnold Levine, MD, and David Baltimore, PhD, discover the p53 protein; later shown to be a mutated tumor suppressor gene in more than half of all cancers.

1980 Society-funded E. Donnall Thomas, MD, pioneers the technique of bone marrow transplantation to treat cancer. He receives the Nobel Prize in 1990.

1982 The Society launches Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II) of 1.2 million volunteers to determine risk factors for cancer mortality. To date, the study has demonstrated that (1) diets rich in fruits and vegetables and aspirin independently reduce risk of fatal colon cancer; (2) post-menopausal estrogen replacement therapy reduces mortality from colon cancer, slightly increases death from ovarian cancer, and may slightly decrease risk of death from breast cancer; and (3) secondhand smoke increases mortality from lung cancer and heart disease.

1982 Society Clinical Research Professor Ronald Levy, MD, first successfully treats cancer (lymphoma) with a monoclonal antibody.

1985 Society-funded Edward Harlow, PhD, clones the mutant p53 gene.

1985 Society-funded Bernard Fisher, MD, demonstrates that lumpectomy plus radiation is equivalent to mastectomy for breast cancer survival.

1986 Society-funded Robert Weinberg, PhD, clones the first of some 20 now-known tumor suppressor genes, the retinoblastoma gene of a childhood eye cancer.

1988 Society-funded Dennis Slamon, MD, discovers that too much her-2/neu receptor is a feature of approximately 30% of the most aggressive breast cancers.

1990 Society-funded Mary-Claire King, PhD, localizes the BRCA1 gene for inherited susceptibility to breast cancer to a specific site on chromosome 17. (BRCA1 was cloned by Mark Scolnick at Myriad Genetics in 1994.)

1990 Society-funded Waun Ki Hong, MD, completes the first chemoprevention trial to show efficacy (vitamin A analogue against mouth and throat tumors).

1990s Society-funded T. Ming Chu, PhD, develops the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for screening and early detection of prostate cancer.

1991-1993 Society-funded Bert Vogelstein, MD, and Richard Kolodner, PhD, clone several genes for inherited susceptibility to colon cancer.

1996 Society-funded Waun Ki Hong, MD, initiates phase I trial of p53 gene therapy in lung cancer.

1996 Society-funded Mary-Claire King, PhD, and collaborators cure transplanted human breast tumors in mice with BRCA1 gene therapy; phase I trial of BRCA1 gene therapy in human ovarian cancer begins.

1996 The FDA announces a new initiative to speed development and availability of new drugs, including anti-cancer therapies.

1996 The Study of Cancer Survivors—a nationwide, prospective, population-based, longitudinal study of the needs and quality of life of cancer survivors—is initiated by the Society's Behavioral Research Center.

1997 Society-funded Thomas Cech, PhD, and Robert Weinberg, PhD, clone the gene for telomerase believed to be specific for cancer cells.

1997 Society-funded Judah Folkman, MD, and Timothy Browder, MD cure cancer in mice by blocking tumor blood supply with angiostatin and endostatin.

1998 The five-year relative survival rate improves to 58%. (In 1960, it was 37% for men and 39% for women.)

1999 The 1999 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine is awarded to former Society grantee Gunter Blobel, MD, PhD, in recognition of his discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.

1999 The Society targets up to 10% of its research grant expenditures to study cancer in poor and underserved populations.

1999 The Society funds more than $100 million in cancer research and health professional training, a 7% increase over 1998.

1999 Through its advocacy efforts in 1999, the Society secures additional federal funding for cancer research, prevention, and early detection, as well as for quality cancer care for the medically underserved.

1999 Through Operation Settle Up, the Society helps secure nearly $300 million in settlement money earmarked for state tobacco prevention and control programs.

1999 The American Cancer Society Action Network continues to grow in 1999, with more than 112,000 members throughout the country.

1999 The Society awards its largest single scientific research grant to date. Gary R. Morrow, PhD, of the University of Rochester and a new American Cancer Society Research Scholar, receives a five-year grant for $1.7 million for research into predicting the side effects of certain types of cancer treatment.

2000 The sequencing of the human genome is completed. Several Society grantees help to pioneer this research.

2000 Society Clinical Research Professor Ronald Levy, MD, uses a DNA chip to differentiate two forms of lymphoma, only one of which responds to therapy. Now doctors can determine with almost 100% accuracy whether certain lymphomas will respond to therapy. This discovery also provides clues to developing therapies for less responsive forms of cancer.

2000 Society epidemiologists prove that long-term cigarette smoking is associated with increased risk of death from colon cancer.

2000 Former Society grantee Brian Druker, MD, reports stunning success in treating chronic myelogenous leukemia with a molecularly targeted pill called Gleevec (manufactured by Novartis).

2000 The Society launches the Campaign Against Cancer grassroots initiative to place cancer on the agenda of every major presidential candidate.

2000 The US Supreme Court finds that the FDA lacks authority to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. The Supreme Court concludes Congress must pass legislation granting the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco.

2001 The House of Representatives passes the "Bipartisan Patient Protection Act," also known as the Patients' Bill of Rights. The House bill contains the same strong patient protections included in the Senate-passed bill. Access to clinical trials, continuity of care, and access to specialists remain key to the passage of this bill.

2001 Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, presents a check for $1,374,000 to the Society in October, representing contributions made during the "Hope Blooms with You" campaign to raise funds to help fight breast cancer. The contribution almost doubles the previous year's $700,000.

2001 Tobacco prevention and health allocation dollars at the state level increase by $122.91 million.

2003 American Cancer Society researchers, led by Eugenia Calle, PhD, conclude that overweight and obesity contribute to most types of cancer and could account for 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent of cancer deaths in women---an average of one out of every six cancers diagnosed.

2004 Three Society-funded researchers are awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry, bringing to 38 the number of Society-supported researchers who have won the prize. Irwin A. Rose, PhD; Avram Hershko, MD, PhD; and Aaron Ciechanover, MD, were awarded for their collective groundbreaking work discovering how cells mark and then destroy unwanted proteins.


1970 The Surgeon General concurs with the findings of Society research irrefutably linking cigarette smoking to cancer.

1970s The Society invests more than $1 million to demonstrate that mammography is the best tool for detecting breast cancer early.

1982 The Society joins with the American Heart Association and American Lung Association to form the Coalition on Smoking or Health to advocate for federal tobacco control policy, including strengthened warning labels on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco; FDA regulation of tobacco; restrictions on tobacco advertising; increases in the federal tobacco excise tax; and smoking restrictions in public places, including airlines, trains, buses, hospitals, and federal buildings.

1986 The Surgeon General's Report concludes environmental smoke (secondhand smoke) is a cause of cancer in healthy nonsmokers.

1989 Legislation passes allowing Medicare coverage for Pap smears.

1990 The Society pushes legislation for clean indoor air acts in local communities, tobacco taxation, and elimination tobacco industry advertising targeting children.

1990 The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act passes, providing adequate and accurate nutrition labels on food products.

1990 The Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act is passed, which provides grants to states to establish programs for breast and cervical cancer screening, case management, outreach and education. Programs that serve low-income and underserved women are a priority.

1990 The Society drafts the first annual Congressional resolution designating October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

1990 Legislation passes that includes Medicare coverage of screening mammograms for women older than 65 every two years.

1990 At the 7th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Perth, Australia, Society representatives launch the "Trade for Life" program to fight the aggressive marketing of cigarettes in developing countries.

1991 Society-funded research shows that young children recognize Joe Camel as easily as Mickey Mouse, demonstrating that the cartoon character reaches an audience well under the legal smoking age.

1991 The American Stop Smoking Intervention Study for Cancer Prevention (ASSIST) Program launches. This is the world's largest demonstration project for tobacco control and is a joint effort between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Society.

1992 The Mammography Quality Standards Act passes, regulating mammography screening facilities, providers, and equipment.

1992 The Cancer Registries Amendment Act passes, establishing a national program of cancer registries.

1992 Sixty-six percent of women older than 40 report having had a mammogram (up 22% from 1979).

1993 The US Environmental Protection Agency classifies environmental tobacco smoke as a Group A (known human) carcinogen.

1993 Legislation passes allowing Medicare coverage for oral forms of intravenous cancer drugs and some off-label use of drugs for treating cancer.

1994 The Society introduces a cancer risk prevention curriculum for Grades four through six called "Do It Yourself: Making Healthy Choices."

1994 The Society asks the FDA to reconsider regulation of tobacco products and prompts congressional hearings.

1994 The goals 2000: Educate America Act is passed, containing the following provisions:
  • An objective that all students will have access to physical education and health education
  • A requirement that tobacco be included in the drug and alcohol curriculum as part of comprehensive, sequential school health education
  • "The Pro-Children Act" providing smoke-free environments to children under age 18 by requiring that federally funded programs establish nonsmoking policies whenever they provide health, day care, education, or library services to children

1994 The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposes regulations requiring smoke-free policies in six million workplaces under its jurisdiction. In the same year, the US Department of Defense, the world's largest employer, bans smoking in all DOD workplaces.

1995 The country's first National Health Education Standards are developed.

1995 The American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Network, which coordinates all Society resources and programs fighting breast cancer launches.

1995 The Society launches its Web site. The site received more than three million visitors in 2002.

1995 The Society participates in establishing the Intercultural Cancer Council (ICC).

1996 The FDA issues its final rule on regulation of tobacco, with provisions to:
  • Reduce access to tobacco products by children and youth
  • Ban advertising that appeals to children
  • Educate children about the dangers of tobacco

1997 The Society launches its new 800-number cancer information delivery system. The call center responded to more than 1.3 million callers in 2002.

1997 State attorneys general reach a preliminary settlement with the tobacco industry on pending state lawsuits to recover Medicaid costs for treating tobacco-related illness.

1997 In response to petitions filed by the Society and other organizations, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) files charges against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company for unfair advertising practices, claiming that the "Joe Camel" advertising campaign encourages children to smoke. Shortly thereafter, RJR announces the elimination of Joe Camel from its advertising campaign.

1997 Medicare approves coverage for cancer screening exams, including:
  • Coverage for mammography extended from biennial to annual coverage for Medicare beneficiaries age 40 and over, with the deductible waived;
  • Pap smear coverage extended to every three years, and annually for high-risk women, with deductibles waived for Pap smears and pelvic exams;
  • Coverage for colorectal cancer screening;
  • Coverage for prostate cancer screening to begin in 2000

1998 The FDA approves the use of tamoxifen to reduce the risk of breast cancer following a report by former Society grantee Bernard Fisher, MD.

1998 The FDA approves the use of Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody developed by former Society grantee Dennis Slamon, MD, for treatment of certain breast cancers.

1998 Despite the US Senate's failure to enact national comprehensive tobacco control legislation, the tobacco industry reaches settlement with attorneys general in all 50 states in lawsuits to recover Medicaid costs of tobacco-related illnesses. Four states—Mississippi, Texas, Florida, and Minnesota—reached individual settlements with the industry. The other 46 states agreed to a joint settlement requiring annual industry payments to states totaling approximately $206 billion through 2025.

1999 The Society revises its Web site and doubles the number of resources it provides. New features include prevention and early detection information, information on health care providers and hospitals, a cancer drug database, and a state-by-state directory of cancer resources.

1999 The Department of Justice files suit against cigarette manufacturers, charging the industry with defrauding the public by lying about the risks of smoking.

2000 The Society helps secure $300 million in new funds for comprehensive tobacco control, thanks to investments in state-based campaigns.

2000 The federal Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act is passed, which provides treatment for low-income women diagnosed with cancer.

2000 New York imposes fire-safety standards on cigarettes.

2001 The Surgeon General issues Women and Smoking, a report detailing the health impact of smoking among women and girls. Lung cancer accounts for 25% of all cancer deaths among women.

2001 The Presidential Tobacco Commission issues its final report. Tobacco growers and public health advocates urge enactment of strong FDA regulation of the tobacco industry.

2001 The Society takes the lead in successfully convincing Congress to enact new legislation to extend Medicare coverage of colonoscopy to average-risk individuals age 50 or older.

2001 The Society leads the way to ensure strong coverage for colorectal screening. In 2001, six additional states enacted screening bills meeting Society requirements, bringing the total up to 14 states nationwide.

2001 15 states adopt provisions ensuring coverage of the routine patient costs associated with clinical trials—up from 12 states the previous year.

2001 In just ten months, the Society helps lead the effort to have 45 states take legislative action toward implementing the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act.

2002 Relay For Life® Celebration on the Hill unites volunteers representing every state and Congressional district in the country. More than 3,000 volunteer community ambassadors and thousands more volunteers and survivors join forces in Washington, D.C. to advocate for better laws to help all Americans fight cancer.

2002 The Society launches a new 501(c)4 sister organization—the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network—to provide new opportunities for voter education and direct advocacy for cancer legislation.

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