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Nancy Davidson

AACR President 2016-2017  
Director, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute​
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania​

Over the course of my career, cancer mortality in the United States has dropped about 1 percent each year. It is impossible to identify one thing that has single-handedly contributed to this decrease in the burden of cancer. Rather, the inroads we have made are a result of advances across the spectrum of cancer research from genetic testing to targeted therapy to smoking cessation.

Everything we know today about how to take care of people with cancer is built on decades of research. Today’s research is the foundation for tomorrow’s standard therapy.

Research has led to so many improvements in treatment, including new systemic therapies, new targeted therapies, new immunotherapies, new surgical techniques, and new approaches to radiotherapy. All of these have been vital in reducing the burden of cancer.

Nor should we forget the importance of early detection and prevention strategies as simple as smoking cessation, which is the single most important action we can take to reduce the burden of cancer moving forward.

In cancer, I think that sometimes we have been accused of overpromising and under delivering. This is something we must avoid. But I believe that if we took the fruits of our knowledge—what we know today—and put those into practice right now for all individuals across our globe, we would make an immediate and incredible impact on the burden of cancer.

Despite the great progress we have made against cancer, the number of people receiving a cancer diagnosis each year in the United States is expected to rise over the coming decades because of a growing and aging population. We must strive to do better for these individuals. Going forward, it would be naïve of us to think that a single discovery is going to make all the difference because cancer is such a complex collection of diseases.

Nonetheless, I think that over the next few years, we will see a continuing refinement of the way we use precision medicine to select targeted therapies, improve the way that we apply immunotherapy, and refine surgical and radiotherapeutic techniques. I am certain these areas will play a substantial role in cancer therapy over the next few years.

Over the long term, I truly believe that we are going to see the impact of early detection and cancer prevention strategies increase, and that we will be able to come to the point where we can enable the concept of personalized screening and personalized cancer prevention.

However, continued progress is going to require a sustained federal commitment to the research agenda. To that end, we are very grateful to President Obama and Vice President Biden for putting cancer and cancer research on the map again in the way that they have with the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative. ​​This is an amazing time scientifically for us; the momentum couldn’t be greater. So, we are delighted that they have been able to galvanize attention about the importance of cancer research. Of course, we hope that ultimately, this will translate into the crucial resources that are going to be required in order to make an even bigger difference against the complex diseases we call cancer.

It is my hope that the momentum created by the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative will energize today’s cancer researchers and also galvanize early-career investigators to come into the field. It is clear that we will not solve the problem of cancer in the next several years. So, it is absolutely critical that we bring to bear our most important resource, early-career investigators from across all scientific disciplines with brilliant new ideas.

The AACR is committed to bringing to the forefront this next generation of cancer researchers, those who are basic scientists, computational scientists, translational scientists, clinical scientists, population scientists, implementation scientists, and more. This is because they reflect the full spectrum of research expertise that we will need to make the next big leaps against cancer.






See Dr. Davidson's Story