The Cancer Moonshot Summit: A Day For Our Nation To Reflect And Commit To What We Can Accomplish To Make This Cancer’s Last Century

Cancer Moonshot Summit.

Who would have imagined five short months ago that on this special day, almost 300 cancer centers and programs in every state attended by over 6000 leaders in cancer care and research, patients, advocates, and many others would have come together to commit themselves to doing what needs to be done—by everyone—to make this cancer’s last century?

Yet that is exactly what happened. President Obama made the declaration in his recent State of the Union address, put Vice President Biden in charge, and there has been no looking back. It is truly an amazing day in the annals of cancer care.

I was honored to be part of the program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, hosted by the Center’s President Ronald DePinho MD. We were joined by hundreds of participants for two and one half hours of discussions focused on what all of us can do to move this effort forward. And among the speakers was Houston Texans’ defensive end, Devon Still, who shared with a hushed audience about his young daughter’s journey with neuroblastoma—and challenged all of us to reach out to communities to increase awareness about prevention, early detection and cancer care.

I would be remiss if I did not call out the talk offered by Vice President Biden, which was a highlight of the summit and was shared with venues across the country. As I tweeted at the moment, words are not sufficient to describe the impact of Mr. Biden’s words. Touching, personal, challenging—all those descriptions come to mind, but they remain inadequate. I personally believe that everyone involved with cancer—those currently under treatment, survivors, those who have lost loved ones, friends and coworkers to cancer, doctors, nurses (who acknowledged with his heart by saying if there are angels in heaven they must be nurses), anyone involved in the cancer sphere—should make every effort to watch that video if they haven’t seen it already.

Cancer moves all of us, for so many different reasons. Mr. Biden and his family are certainly no exception especially given the recent passing of their son Beau. The Vice President brought an emotion and an empathy to the moment that represented the feelings of so many who shared his words. He also brought challenges from which he didn’t shrink, asking why we can’t (haven’t?) done more to defeat this scourge we call cancer? Why are we holding back when we know what has to be done?

The depth of his knowledge and the intensity of his passion was obvious to all of us, and we share his commitment to meeting the goal he has set for the nation and the world: to double the speed of our knowledge of cancer and the application of that knowledge, accomplishing in five years what it now takes ten to accomplish. Here at the American Cancer Society, we have now set a goal to double our own investment in cancer research in five years, bringing it to an unprecedented $240 million per year.

Progress in cancer has come in haltingly slow steps. But we can’t forget that in the 45 years since President Nixon announced the War on Cancer, we built the knowledge and the infrastructure that have made the progress of the past decade possible. We made the investments, we have had some success, but we need to invest more and do it more effectively. If we could apply what we already know, we could reduce many of the deaths from cancer that will happen this very day. But there will be—and need to be—more successes tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that and for many tomorrows to come.

This is what the cancer moonshot is all about: harnessing our knowledge, making a national commitment, increasing collaboration, and making certain that everyone in every community has every opportunity to realize the benefits of cancer prevention and early detection, access to high quality cancer care, freedom from financial toxicity that remains so prevalent in the cancer care community, and hopefully be able to survive and thrive for the remaining years of their lives. No one should have to forgo a screening test, or adequate follow-up care when it comes to cancer. We must remove the barriers and make it happen. We can do this, my friends.

A couple of years ago I used to share a thought with others that when it comes making progress in our cancer research and treatment efforts, we had the way; but did we have the will? Our research was heading in unprecedented directions, providing new knowledge at a rapid clip, and generating answers to age old questions about what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell. But at the same time we got those answers we also got more questions, and our support of our research enterprise was lagging behind.

Today, I sense we not only have the way, we  now have the will. Today we came together to renew our commitment to do better, to remove the barriers, to offer everyone the best possible cancer care wherever they may reside. Organizations including the American Cancer Society have made substantial commitments, financial and otherwise, to make this happen.

All this happened because one man and his family realized they had the power to make a difference, that in their moment of tragedy there had to be renewed meaning in life. Today’s Cancer Moonshot Summit was the result, an early step and certainly not the last.

To Mr. Biden, our sincerest thanks and admiration for making a difference, for making all of us stand up and take notice. Your commitment, your mission, your resolve is now our commitment, our mission and our resolve.

We can’t say thank you enough for making this happen.

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J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog ( which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

4 thoughts on “The Cancer Moonshot Summit: A Day For Our Nation To Reflect And Commit To What We Can Accomplish To Make This Cancer’s Last Century

  1. Over the years, I have had issues with my breasts such as papillomas in the breast ducts. Now the doctor wants to remove both breasts as there was a miniscule cancer found. I didn’t want both breasts removed so I opted for another lumpectomy on my breasts. I would like to know if this is the right decision?

    1. I cannot provide medical advice through this blog. I suggest you contact our cancer information center at 800 227 2345 to speak with one of our cancer information specialists. Another option you have is to get a second opinion to address your questions and concerns.

  2. Hi Len,
    Please ask MD Anderson Cancer Center to publish on its web site ALL the suggestions that were handed in at the end of the event. If you can get V.P. Biden’s attention, please ask the White House to do the same with all the suggestions collected (and how about readers getting to give “Like’s” to get the W.H. to pay attention to them). For that matter, the ACS could also post all the suggestions.

    My suggestion (yes, I turned it in): use many chimeric antigen receptors on one T-cell (CAR T-cells) to target any and all the likely “oncosurfaceome” targets on a type of tumor. For example, for glioblastoma, any single biopsy or resection might show only 1 to 3 targets. In Precision Medicine thinking the patient would only get drugs for those three, then relapse because tumor heterogeneity means that other parts of the tumor have other mutations. Plus, “one cell to kill them all” means one CAT T-cell product to manufacture, much more efficient and less expensive than patient specific. See bottom of
    for more on this.

    1. Thanks you for your note. I suggest you contact MD Anderson directly with your suggestions.

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