The National Cancer Institute, also known as NCI, is one of 27 Institutes and Centers forming the National Institutes of Health, known as NIH. The Department of Health and Human Services oversees the NIH. The NCI is located on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland. There are also two satellite offices located in the cities of Rockville and Frederick, Maryland. As of July, 2010, the director of the NCI was Dr. Harold Varmus. The NCI was established by Congress on August 6, 1937 to be an independent research institute. The Public Health Service Act, enacted on July 1, 1944, made the NCI an operating division of the NIH. In an effort to broaden the purpose and responsibilities of the NCI, Congress amended the Public Health Service Act with the National Cancer Act of 1971. This act was created with an intention to more effectively carry out the national efforts against cancer. The National Cancer Institute Act defined the NCI’s initial responsibilities as the following:
- Conduct and oversee cancer research.
- Review and appoint grant applications, thus supporting research projects on the causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer.
- Collect, study, and disseminate the results of various cancer research, conducted both in the United States and in other countries.
- Instruct and train in the topics of cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment.
The National Cancer Act of 1971 expanded the responsibilities of the NCI when the National Cancer Program was created. The program was to be overseen by the NCI. The same act also broadened the NCI’s international projects. Cancer research by qualified foreign nationals in other countries was to be supported. Also to be supported was research collaborated by both American and foreign participants, including their training both abroad and in the United States.
Further expanding the dissemination of the NCI was the Public Health Service Act. The act was created to provide informational and educational programs for both the public and for patients so that they can take the proper steps to achieve the following:
- Reduce the risk of cancer.
- Make people aware of the techniques available for early cancer detection and to teach the appropriate use of those techniques.
- Help people to emotionally deal with cancer.
- Provide information as to long-term survival techniques.
The Public Health Service Act in return expected the NCI to continue and expand programs which provided both physicians and the public with state of the art information regarding the treatment of specific types of cancer. They were also to identify any clinical trials which might not only help patients but also advance the knowledge of various types of cancer treatment.
Since its inception in 1937, the NCI has created a network of community and regional cancer centers, cancer specialists, clinical researchers, and outreach groups. There are many dedicated volunteers who include themselves in the network as well. The NCI has also created an infrastructure for discovery, consisting of support mechanisms, various organizations, and networks which link scientist to valuable resources, facilities, and useful information. A foundation for various research activities encompassing all aspects of cancer has been provided by this infrastructure, including; biology, physiology, genetics, epidemiology, prevention, screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care, and survivorship. Highly skilled research in cancer control as well as behavioral and population sciences are also supported by the massive infrastructure of the NCI, as they support their training programs. Because of this support, scientific advances in cancer research of all areas are made each year.
Every year, the NCI provides the President and Congress with their best judgment regarding how much funding is needed in an effort to make the most rapid attack on cancer. The budget for the NCI in the fiscal year of 2010 was approximately 5.1 billion dollars. Most of those dollars were used for the granting of funds and contracts to various universities. Cancer centers, medical schools, research labs, and the private companies within the United States and approximately 60 other countries were also included in the budget. Research which was conducted at the NCI was supported with the remaining balance.
There are many cancer research projects funded by the NCI. The Radiological Physics Center in Houston, TX and the Quality Assurance Review Center in Providence, RI are two of the NCI’s largest known grants. Also known as the RPC, the Radiological Physics Center oversees the aspects of its studies related to physics. Since 1968, it has been funded consistently by the NCI. There is a specific radiotherapy protocol and the RPC is there to guide institutions regarding the protocol process. Known as the QARC, the Quality Assurance Review Center assures quality in radiotherapy as well as management of diagnostic imaging to cooperative groups sponsored by the NCI. The QARC conducts radiotherapy reviews and has been supported by the NCI since 1980. They receive radiotherapy data from approximately 1,000 hospitals worldwide. Since incepted in 1977, the QARC has reviewed more than 30,000 cases. The University of Massachusetts Medical School shares a strategic affiliation with the QARC.
Progress in the fight against cancer is being made thanks to the collaborative efforts of both cancer researchers throughout the world and the NCI scientists. Supporting their efforts are examples of research intended to invoke a more broad conversation regarding the Nation’s investment in further cancer research. Since 1937 the NCI has helped aid our understanding of cancer. We know it as a set of diseases, complex in nature, requiring much investigation.
In the United States alone, the rate of new cases of cancer has been declining since 1999. Overall, the rate of deaths due to cancer has bean on the decline for more than 10 years. This shows that there have been advancements in treatment and technology, thus leading to more effective tools for the understanding of cancer. In 2007, more than 11 million survivors of cancer were living in the U.S. Cancer survivors are living longer than ever before and with a better quality of life due to constant research of dedicated individuals.