As our population ages and we continue to extend the boundaries of human longevity, the societal impact of cancer will increase. Since the inauguration of the National Cancer Act in 1971, steady progress has been made in the therapy of a select number of tumors. Currently, however, developments in modern molecular biology are driving unparalleled advances in our understanding of the cellular nature, etiology, prevention, and therapy of cancer. The ability to answer questions concerning the genetic control of cell growth has also fueled major advances in our understanding of development, aging, and indeed, life itself.
Cancer is actually a complex family of diseases that are as multifaceted as the numerous potential cells of origin. Cancer etiology is a multistage, multigenic process that engenders an array of subcellular alterations that subsequently define the impact of the developing tumor on its host. Therefore, the study of cancer is necessarily a multidisciplinary endeavor drawing from traditional disciplines of biochemistry, cell biology, pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, and physiology, as well as from the more recent disciplines of cellular biophysics and molecular biotechnology. While the training of cancer researchers has historically been accomplished by individual investigators in the traditional departments, the rapidly expanding knowledge base and complexity of modern genetic and molecular approaches necessitate an approach that is both broader-based, with respect to scientific discipline, and more focused, with respect to this disease entity.