Cancer will touch the lives of most Americans, but few understand its history. Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a biography of the disease by award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, takes on the challenge of explaining the impact of a disease which has been around since the beginning of time, and will strike more than 1.6 million Americans in 2015 alone.
The documentary, which airs in three parts on PBS beginning tonight, is based on oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee’s award-winning 2010 book. It portrays the devastating history of cancer by weaving the stories of cancer patients into the complicated science, politics, and history of the disease. The story told by the film simultaneously underscores the value of progress that has been made and the importance of continuing to push forward to advance cancer care.
We at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) are proud to have supported this documentary because our members, 41 of whom are featured in the three-day, six hour film, have been at the forefront of the most innovative cancer discoveries that are improving the care of cancer patients since our founding in 1907. As we have noted in our Cancer Progress Report, researchers have made tremendous strides in the fight against cancer, particularly in recent years. Today, cancer patients are more likely to survive a diagnosis than any time in history and enjoy a higher quality of life, due in large part to the rapid pace of scientific advances.
The progress made in the five years it has taken to translate Dr. Mukherjee’s book to film only serves to illustrate the importance of the work researchers, including the more than 35,000 AACR members in 101 countries, are doing in the fight against cancer. Since 2010 we have seen a wave of treatments for melanoma, including cutting edge immunotherapies. We have seen new personalized medicines for ovarian cancer, lung cancer, and others. Such advances build on past progress and they offer great hope for the innovative direction of today’s research.
The documentary not only demonstrates the significant strides already
made, it highlights the challenges we continue to face and serves as a valuable launching pad for a necessary national dialogue about the vital importance of cancer research. We’re looking forward to the premiere and we hope you are too.
Jon Retzlaff is the managing director of science policy and government affairs at AACR.
Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others to share their perspectives and point of view. Like in our Conversations series, views represented here may not be those of PhRMA, though they are no less key to a healthy dialogue on issues in health care today.