THE BLOG

Breaking the Cycle on Cancer

02/02/2015 10:55 am ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, Dec. 23, 1971. Now over 40 years later Bill Couzens, Founder Less Cancer hopes that National Cancer Prevention Day will ignite the work and polices that breaks the cycle on increasing incidences of cancer.

As we approach February 4th, known to most as World Cancer Day, is more importantly a day that Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) sponsored the resolution for National Cancer Prevention Day. Congressman Israel's effort was a helpful first step in bringing the effort to prevent cancer into the minds of our nation's leadership. Representative Israel has introduced the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act. With that same intention to protect the public, Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) also Co-Chair of the House Cancer Caucus, founding co-chair of the Congressional Skin Cancer Caucus,and like Israel will be speaker at National Cancer Prevention Day co-sponsored legislation to require heightened standards for indoor tanning.

National Cancer Prevention Day came at a time when there was need for balance beyond the current cancer treatment and pharmaceutical marketing bonanza of a World Cancer Day. We as an organization are interested in raising the bar on the cancer conversation beyond bracelets, t-shirts or other chachka but rather an opportunity to work towards improving and creating better education, best practices and policies that may work to break the increasing cycle on cancer.

I founded the Next Generation Choices Foundation over a decade ago, but most know us by our elevator speech, "Less Cancer." When I started knocking on doors, I sought out the best scientists I could find: people like Ronald B. Herberman, MD, who at the time was the Founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh's HillmanCancer Center and had a list of accolades as far as the eye could see. Dr.Herberman sat on the Less Cancer board, and when he died we started the Ronald B. Herberman Memorial Speaker as part of our National Cancer Prevention Day talk on Capitol Hill. Last year we were honored to have prevention pioneer Graham Colditz, MD and this year David L. Katz, MD from Yale University as our speaker. These men, like Dr. Heberman, were the best in science and medicine, but also men who are leaders walking the walk and talking the talk.

I remember that when Dr. Herberman died a reporter called me and asked me, "Why would he be your board -- a board of a small organization -- when he could have any seat on any board of any non-profit he wanted?"

My response was "I believe Dr. Herberman was on our board because he knew we did things differently. Just for example we do not have the likes of a "Phillip Morris" funding a smoking cessation program or a "Pepsi" funding an obesity program". It was that simple. There was no confusion about Dr. Herberman's work to prevent cancer. He wanted the work focused on one goal without bias or conflict.

Enter Ron's successor, now Less Cancer board member Margaret I. Cuomo, MD. Margaret wrote about Ron in her book A World Without Cancer and is not only interested in cancer prevention but is interested getting answers on how to make cancer prevention possible and how to protect the public. "Getting answers" for Dr.Cuomo in no way translates to simple Google searching. It means getting answers from a source and triple checking the evidence -- leaving no stone unturned. While I never knew Margaret's father, the legendary, now late Governor Mario Cuomo, I held him in great esteem for his defense of the environment and human health. Margaret carries on that family commitment.

Cancer prevention is complicated. It requires pioneering leaders at every level of government and industry and it touches on nearly every aspect of the environment and human health.

The trend for many cancer treatment gurus now is to figure out how to treat the elderly for cancer, as age is the greatest risk for cancer -- their emphasis is on more treated cancer. Likewise, the current trend is for cancer centers and the pharmaceutical industry to treat a population now living longer. LessCancer.org is interested in seeing people not experiencing cancer at all, preventing not only premature deaths, but eliminating cancer altogether.

LessCancer.org leadership have been communicating with and educating the masses -- via social media and community education -- about cancer prevention, seeking best practices and policies that protect the public.

Cancer Prevention extends from the environment to social education issues of literacy and poverty. This year on Capitol Hill, we will be awarding the Less Cancer Leadership Award to Jon Whelan. Jon made a documentary about his tenacious quest to uncover the source of a chemical scent in a pair of his daughter's pajamas. Like most Americans, Whelan believed that if a product was on the store shelf, it must be safe. Through his investigation, Jon discovered a culture of secrecy surrounding carcinogens in everyday consumer products that begins in corporate board rooms and extends all the way to the halls of Congress. Jon, whose wife died of cancer, is the father of two young daughters and currently advocates for truthful product labeling.

These are not small acts; the efforts by Dr. Herberman, Dr. Cuomo, Less Cancer's leaders, and Jon Whelan are sacrifices by people who work not from a place of convenience, but who are working for what is right to protect the public. I am humbled to be guided in this quest by a board of directors that includes Less Cancer Chairman Tom Sherman, MD, who in his home state of New Hampshire sees patients in his practice and works to guard the public interest as a State Representative and people like Less Cancer Vice President Greg Lam, both of whom who have given endless hours over the last decade to ensure we cross our t's and dot our i's.

Veronique Pittman, Less Cancer board member, is the first to jump in when rounding up folks between her serious efforts in guarding the planet. However, Veronique is one of 13 Less Cancer board members, and each one has gifts and brave leadership when it comes to getting behind breaking the cycle on increased incidence of cancer.

Less Cancer Board member, journalist Miles O'Brien, not only lost his mother and sister to cancer but sadly in February of 2014 due to an accident lost his left arm. Yet, typically of Miles, he threw himself into training, jumped on his bike and rode the Less Cancer Bike Ride from Port Huron, to Mackinaw City, Michigan 300 miles in two days in honor of his sister Aileen.

We need to see this type of leadership across the nation. We need to have our leaders say and do what they mean. If we ever are going to break the cycle on increased incidence of cancer, leadership needs to look beyond the trenches of cancer treatment and expand their focus to prevent cancer cases from increasing. The time is now for Less Cancer.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and LessCancer.org in recognition of World Cancer Day and National Cancer Prevention Day (both Feb. 4), and in conjunction with Less Cancer's program on Cancer Prevention in Washington, D.C. on 2/4/14. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about Lesscancer.org click here.