A Brief History of The War on Cancer

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

We’ve been fighting the war on cancer for forty years and although there has been a decrease in U.S. cancer deaths, the global burden of cancer has doubled over the last three decades [1]. Indeed, the leading cause of death in the world today is cancer, followed by heart disease and stroke [2,3]. Cancer also has the greatest economic impact from premature death and disability of all causes of death worldwide, costing $895 billion in 2008 [3]. That number is just the cost of loss of productivity; it doesn’t include the direct costs of treating cancer.

Dr. Anna Barker served as the former Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and as the Deputy Director for Strategic Scientific Initiatives at the NCI for eight years. In that role, she developed and implemented integrative, multi- and trans-disciplinary programs to accelerate the development and translation of new knowledge and technologies that fight cancer. Anna Barker recently joined Arizona State University as Director, Transformative Healthcare Networks, Co-Director, Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative and Professor, School of Life Sciences [4]. She has received a number of awards for her volunteer and philanthropic activities, including being named among “The 100 People Changing America” by Rolling Stone magazine in 2009.

Anna Barker’s TEDMED talk last year focused on the history of The War on Cancer, her projects within the National Cancer Institute, and where research is badly needed. TEDMED is a three day annual conference where cutting-edge science and technology leaders “connect, understand and inspire” to advance the art of health and medicine with new ideas, the latest science and innovative technology. Barker’s talk provides a brief history on The War on Cancer and an overview on a number of cancer programs initiated over the last decade. Check out Anna Barker’s talk below.


  1. World Cancer Report 2008. International Agency for Research on Cancer. World Health Organization. 2008.
  2. Cancer. World Health Organization. Accessed 2011 Nov 1.
  3. Global Economic Cost of Cancer. American Cancer Society. 2010 Aug 16.
  4. Anna Barker joins ASU to lead Transformative Healthcare Networks. ASU News. 2011 Aug 31.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.