The National Cancer Institute: What It Is and What It Means to You


If you've been following Lifelines articles about your health, you've been connected to information from the National Cancer Institute, or NCI for short. NCI is a US government agency and part of the National Institutes of Health. More than 40 years ago, the National Cancer Act gave NCI new authorities as the government's principal agency for cancer research and training, including the responsibility for coordinating the National Cancer Program. What does this mean? It means that NCI has an important federal mandate to direct programs that investigate all aspects of cancer, from prevention and early detection to treatment and survivorship. In addition, NCI was charged with ensuring that doctors, patients, and the public receive the latest information about cancer.


Cancer is really many diseases—not just one. It can begin in many different parts of the body, such as the breast or the prostate, and even cancers that develop in the same location can be very different from one another. Each type poses unique research questions that will ultimately help us solve the cancer puzzle.  Investigators across the country and around the world are working day and night, focusing on specific pieces of the puzzle as they conduct research and share information about their findings.  NCI has more than 3,000 employees in its federal ranks.  And thousands of NCI-funded researchers are employed in universities, hospitals, and research institutions across the country and worldwide.  Some of this research may be conducted in facilities near you, for example in NCI's network of cancer centers or in community hospitals. 


When you hear about a new research advance – such as a vaccine for cervical cancer or a new test for colorectal cancer – it is often the result of research that has been funded by NCI.  Other important NCI missions include training researchers and conducting clinical trials. 


Because of the success of this work over many years, more people are living longer today after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. Of course, one important goal is to completely solve the puzzle of cancer and prevent it from happening in the first place. In the meantime, NCI is working to develop new methods of detecting cancer at the earliest stages, when it is most treatable, and new therapies that target the specific cellular and molecular changes that cause cells to become cancerous.


So what does NCI mean for you as a member of the public? In addition to funding research to improve patient outcomes, NCI has a mission to reach out to the public with information about the latest advances in cancer prevention, screening, and treatment.  When you are confronted with a diagnosis of cancer—for yourself or in your family, your community, or your workplace—you have a place to go to for accurate, up-to-date information and resources to help you with the decisions you may have to make.


Researching Cancer in Communities of Color


What is even more important to you as a member of the Hispanic population is that NCI is committed to understanding cancer's impact on communities of color. Research shows that cancer disparities – inequities in the numbers of new cases and deaths for certain types of cancer according to race and ethnicity – do exist.  As a result, NCI continues to investigate the causes of these disparities and find ways to eliminate them through research in the lab and in the field.


Resources and more information about cancer and smoking are available, please visit the NCI web site at or call NCI's Cancer Information Service at 1.800.4.CANCER (1.800.422.6237).