Dec 23, 2021 9:00 AM

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National Cancer Act 50th anniversary celebration

This December, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library Museum in Yorba Linda, California, held a special event to celebrate a piece of “visionary and transformative bipartisan legislation.”

The event recognized the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which was signed into law by President Nixon on December 23, 1971. This extraordinary policy established an unprecedented national infrastructure for advancing cancer research discoveries that would save millions of lives.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center Executive Director Neli Ulrich, PhD, attended the 50th anniversary occasion at the Nixon Library.

Neli Ulrich and other leaders attend National Cancer Act 50th anniversary dinner
Neli Ulrich, PhD, MS, with Robert A. Winn, MD, director of the VCU Massey Cancer Center, and Ruben Mesa, MD, director of UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center

“It was an honor to join with other National Cancer Institute Cancer Center directors and reflect on how the National Cancer Act has made such a profound impact on our ability to accelerate lifesaving research against cancer. This legislation gave birth to cancer centers like HCI. It established ways to support research grants and clinical trials. It created a cancer peer-review process, which served as a template for science worldwide. I am honored to represent HCI as a national leader in these efforts. With our unique strengths—expertise in cancer genetics and a focus on rural and frontier populations—we are committed to advancing discoveries that improve the way we detect, care for, and prevent cancers,” says Ulrich.

The signing of the National Cancer Act holds special significance for HCI.

On the day the National Cancer Act was signed, a White House staff secretary to President Nixon named Jon M. Huntsman attended the press conference. Huntsman described in his biography, Barefoot to Billionaire, the “deep, personal significance” the occasion had on him after losing his mother to breast cancer only three years earlier. His personal experiences had already ignited a commitment to make a difference for cancer patients and their families. Attending the event where the act signed by President Nixon furthered his resolve.

President Richard Nixon signing the National Cancer Act on December 23, 1971
President Richard Nixon signing the National Cancer Act on December 23, 1971 | Photo credit: National Cancer Institute, Linda Barlett

On what was once an empty hillside, thanks to Huntsman and many other visionary founders, there is now more than one million square feet of space for cancer research, care, education, and community engagement. HCI is the home of the region’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. HCI’s reach expands through a network of community clinics, affiliate hospitals, a mobile screening program, education and outreach, community partners, and one of the world’s first oncology hospital at home programs.

The National Cancer Act created a robust federal infrastructure for cancer centers. This policy catalyzed major progress in saving lives and reducing suffering caused by cancer through the work of HCI and many other cancer centers around the nation. We are honored that Huntsman was in the room when the act was signed.

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