Future Directions for Cancer Control

Reflecting on over 23 years of service in DCCPS, I am struck by how much the directions and impact of the work conducted by the division have depended on the individuals within it. Even in an organization like DCCPS, which depends heavily on teamwork and collaboration, many of our scientific initiatives have begun with one individual’s idea, which is then shaped and enhanced by the input of numerous others within and outside the division. The essential seeds of great ideas have come from subject matter experts who themselves were influenced by both the published research literature and innumerable conversations with scientists, advocates, and community members.

Although the cancer control research workforce is vibrant and increasingly diverse, our future success will continue to rely on the recruitment and retention of outstanding individuals committed to public service, who are willing to serve in the government. Academic culture rewards highly visible, individual accomplishment, whereas government relies on selfless service — the willingness to accomplish major goals for the greater good, often without individual credit or identifiability.

Research in cancer control and population sciences, as in many other fields, relies on relentless progress in research tools and methods, and this has been a thematic focus of DCCPS throughout its history. To sustain progress, we will need to continue to incentivize, support, and improve methodological research. Our investments in statistical methods and modeling, exposure and risk behavior assessment, and patient-reported outcomes, for example, have yielded some of the greatest benefits.

Data-driven prioritization has been another hallmark of DCCPS. As the NCI division responsible for collecting, analyzing, and reporting surveillance data of many types, we have a central and essential national role in monitoring progress against cancer. Surveillance and epidemiology also inform our own research directions and priorities. Many efforts, such as the Cancer Trends Progress Report and State Cancer Profiles, have been undertaken to increase the utility and visibility of these data. As with our recent expansion of the SEER Program, the division will need to continually enhance and further disseminate these vital resources, in close collaboration with our colleagues across HHS.

Finally, our public health responsibility requires us to prioritize research that addresses the most important, as well as newly emerging and poorly understood risk factors. A hallmark of the work supported by DCCPS is its public health impact. Tobacco use and obesity are continuing challenges, but other factors require new, fundamental knowledge concerning the risks of exposure (e.g., cannabis) or strategies to reduce risk (e.g., alcohol). And the greatest challenge of our time, health inequity, demands the full exploitation of our research resources and intellectual capacity to alleviate the impact of poverty and discrimination on cancer incidence and mortality.

Robert T. Croyle, PhD

Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences
National Cancer Institute

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