A New Administration Must Confront Long-Held Challenges

The following op-ed appeared in February’s print edition of Newsmax Magazine. 

America is a large, complex and diverse nation in the midst of monumental change. February marks the first full month of a new Administration and new Congress. In order for them to be successful, our newly elected leaders must also be energized to confront long-standing challenges which have been on full display in the midst of the health and economic crises over the past year.

For many Americans, it took a global pandemic to open their eyes to the different realities which exist in healthcare between the haves and have nots. This is a gulf that, despite incredible advances in medical technology and therapeutic science, has been widening in recently decades.

The year 1971 was the first time the federal government began to really marshal resources in the fight against cancer. In fact, it was President Richard Nixon who declared a war on cancer. Today, many medical experts, patients and advocates now reject the analogy but as we approach the 50th anniversary of President Nixon’s call to action, the progress that has been made is notable. Because of a combination of advocacy, medical research and technological advances, the overall cancer mortality rate has declined steadily from its peak in 1991. The death rate from cancer declined by over 2 percent from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever, according to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 report.

In 2021, lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer will likely be among the most common types of cancer, so naturally declines in their mortality rates account the drop in the overall death rates. Here are mortality rate trends for those cancers as reported in ACS’s 2020 report:

  • Lung cancer death rates declined by 51% from 1990 to 2017 among men and 26% from 2002 to 2017 among women.
  • Breast cancer death rates declined 40% from 1989 to 2017 among women.
  • Colorectal cancer death rates declined 53% from 1980 to 2017 among men and by 57% from 1969 to 2017 among women.


Despite this progress, disparities in treatment, care and outcomes continue to stubbornly exist among minority populations. For example, Black women have the highest mortality from breast cancer of all racial and ethnic groups. According to the American Cancer Society, they are 42 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. Further, Hispanic women are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 20 percent more likely to die from cervical cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white women. Whether combating COVID or cancer, a person’s race or where they live should not determine whether they live. This is a lesson that needs to be understood city hall to halls of Congress – and everywhere in between.

Last year, former President George W. Bush offered inspiring and thought-provoking words of hope when he spoke of the bond we share as Americans in the midst of the pandemic. “Let’s remember that the suffering we experience as a nation does not fall evenly.”

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 and the 50th anniversary of the self-declared war on cancer in the United States, we should also take a central lesson to heart: Whether it’s COVID-19 or cancer, health challenges affect everyone, but they do not affect all of us the same.


Nancy Brinker, founder of The Promise Fund of Florida and Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, has served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol, and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization. She is continuing her work in efforts to end death from cancer.