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The War on Cancer: a Progress Report for Skeptics

In 1971 President Nixon and Congress declared war on cancer. So what’s happened in the 40 years since? After weeding out the hype and filling in the actual statistics, it turns out not much.

“These summary statistics show that the war on cancer has not gone well,” says the article’s author, Reynold Spector. “This is in marked contrast to death rates from stroke and cardiovascular disease (adjusted for the age and size of the population), which have fallen by 74 percent and 64 percent, respectively, from 1950 through 2006; and by 60 percent and 52 percent, respectively, from 1975 through 2006 (Kolata 2009a).

“These excellent results against stroke and heart disease are mainly due to improvements in drug therapy, especially the control of high blood pressure to prevent stroke and the use of statins, aspirin, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors (now all generic) to prevent and treat heart disease. Cancer therapy is clearly decades behind.”