American Cancer Society

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The Amcerican Cancer Society (ACS) is an American "community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service".[1]


Originally named the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC), the American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 in New York City by 15 distinguished physicians and business leaders. The founding of the society was an historic moment because cancer was rarely mentioned in public at that time and most people had very little knowledge of it even though cancer killed 75,000 people a year in the United States alone. Raising public awareness of cancer and educating the public in order to break through the current state of ignorance, fear, and denial was therefore an important early task. To help reach their goals, ASCC members wrote articles for professional journals and popular magazines, published a monthly bulletin of cancer information called Campaign Notes, and recruited other physicians to aid in public education. The ACS emblem, a sword whose handle consists of two twined serpents, was adopted in 1928. The sword expressed the crusading spirit of the cancer control movement, and the serpents express the medical and scientific natures of the ACS program. In addition, the twinned serpents also resemble the symbol of the caduceus, an ancient symbol of healing.

An important step in the evolution of the ASCC into a broad-based voluntary organization occurred in 1936 with the creation of a legion of new volunteers whose exclusive purpose was to fight cancer. Known as the Women's Field Army, this legion was created at because of Marjorie G. Illic, an ASCC representative and chair of the General Federation of Women's Clubs Committee on Public Health. Members of the Women's Field Army wore khaki uniforms and insignia signifying their ranks, and canvassed the streets to raise money and to educate the public. It is estimated that primarily because of the success of the Women's Field Army, the number of people involved in cancer control in the United States increased from 15,000 in 1935 to 150,000 in 1938.

In 1945, the ASCC was reorganized as the American Cancer Society (ACS). In 1947, the ACS began its well-known campaign to education the public about the symptoms and signs of cancer. The original seven cancer danger signals included: any sore that does not heal, a lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere, unusual bleeding or discharge, any change in a wart or mole, persistent indigestion or difficult swallowing; persistent hoarseness or cough, or any change in normal bowel habits. These danger signals were revised several times and the campaign continued into the 1980s.

The ACS research program was established in 1946. Among the first recipients of funding was Dr. Sidney Farber, who initiated the modern era of chemotherapy for cancer treatment when he achieved the first temporary cancer remission using the drug aminopterin. The ACS has committed about $3 billion to research over the years, and has funded 40 Nobel Prize winners. Some of the best-known researches supported by ACS over the years are projects that have helped to establish the link between smoking and cancer; demonstrated the effectiveness of the Pap smear; developed interferon; and proved the safety and effectiveness of mammographies.

Current objectives and activities

The most common activities of the ACS can be put into four categories: research, education, patient services, and advocacy. In the area of research, the ACS is the largest source of private, nonprofit cancer research funds in the United States, and only the federal government spends more money. The ACS cancer education programs focus on prevention and early detection. Prevention programs educate children and adults about health lifestyles and cancer risk factors which include tobacco use, sun exposure, and diet and exercise. The early detection programs educate the public informing them to have regular medical checkups and recommended cancer screenings. Early detection programs also encourage people to provide healthcare professionals with the most up-to-date information. The ACS provides support service programs intended to lessen the impact on friends, family, and the people diagnosed with cancer. Services provided include connecting patients with survivors and providing a place to stay when patients travel long distances for treatment. The ACS engages in advocacy efforts at the state and federal levels intended to increase funding for cancer research, to help more people benefit from advances in prevention, early detection, and treatment, to ease the path of the cancer patient through the healthcare system, and to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, survivors, and their families and friends. The ACS has a related advocacy organization, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) that works on influencing candidates and lawmakers to support laws and policies that aid the fight against cancer, and to conduct voter education campaigns focused on that purpose.

Organizational structure

The American Cancer Society, Inc., consists of a National Home Office, 13 chartered divisions, and over 3,400 local offices. The National Home Office is responsible for many activities including: the planning and coordination of ACS programs, information delivery, cancer control and prevention, advocacy, resource development, and patient services. The National Home Office also helps with technical support and provides materials to the divisions and local offices, and administers the intramural and extramural research programs. The 13 divisions are responsible for program delivery to their respective regions. The local offices deliver cancer prevention, help with early detection, and create patient services programs at the community level. Much of the American Cancer Society’s activities are carried out by volunteers. In 2006 the American Cancer Society had over three million volunteers that helped carry out the American Cancer Society’s mission through their service in different areas including research, public education, and patient support.


In all the American Cancer Society has funded over 40 researchers who have gone on to win Nobel Prizes in their respective fields for their studies. The ACS has helped the death rates of those with cancer drop dramatically, and has supported and helped many policies and legislative acts. Some Highlights include:

In 1946, the first two researchers supported by the American Cancer Society, Wendell Stanley and Hermann Muller win Nobel Prizes for crystallizing a virus and discovering mutations due to x-rays. A 70% decrease in mortality from cancer of the uterine cervix is seen because the ACS adopted the Pap test.

In 1947, The first successful chemotherapy of cancer because of the ACS funded Doctor, Sidney Farber.

In 1953, The ACS funded James Watson established the double helix structure, eventually winning a Nobel Prize in 62.

In 1954, ACS Hammond and Horn study shows link between smoking and cancer

In 1971, ACS took a leading role to pass the National Cancer Act, which is considered the most dramatics piece of heath legislation ever enacted

See also

  • "American Cancer Society." Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society. 2007. SAGE Publications. 29 Sep. 2009