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American Cancer Society


The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 as the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC) by fifteen prominent physicians and business leaders in New York City. It was one of the most remarkable moments in the history of public health.

In those early days, cancer was rarely mentioned in public. The disease was steeped in a climate of fear and denial. Cancer claimed 75,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone. The Society's founders knew they had to bring cancer out of the closet if progress was to be made. The number of doctors, nurses, patients and family members who had to be reached was overwhelming. Despite the enormity of their task, the founders and their colleagues set about writing articles for popular magazines and professional journals, publishing Campaign Notes, a monthly bulletin of cancer information, and recruiting physicians throughout the country to help educate the public.

In 1936 Marjorie G. Illig, an ASCC field representative and chair of the General Federation of Women's Clubs Committee on Public Health, made an extraordinary suggestion. She proposed creating a legion of new volunteers whose sole purpose was to wage war on cancer. The Women's Field Army, as this organization came to be called, was an enormous success. Its recruits donned khaki uniforms, complete with insignia of rank and achievement, and went out into the streets to raise money and help educate the public. Clarence Little, the ASCC's managing director at the time, wrote that "In 1935 there were fifteen thousand people active in cancer control throughout the United States. At the close of 1938, there were ten times that number." More than anything else, it was the Women's Field Army that moved the Society to the forefront of voluntary health organizations.

In 1945 the ASCC was reorganized as the American Cancer Society. It was the beginning of a new era for the organization and, in many ways, for the country as a whole. World War II was over, the single greatest threat to modern democracy had been defeated, and the nation could at last focus its attention on the enemy at home. Many believed it was time for another bold move. In 1946 Mary Lasker and her colleagues met this challenge, helping to raise over $4 million dollars for the Society--$1 million of which was used to establish and fund the Society's research program. With the aid and assistance of dedicated volunteers like Lasker and Elmer Bobst, the Society's research program quickly began to bear fruit. In 1947 the American Cancer Society also began its public education campaign about the signs and symptoms of cancer. They were termed "Cancer's Danger Signals". The original 7 danger signals were:

1. Any sore that does not heal.
2. A lump or thickening in the breast or elsewhere.
3. Unusual bleeding or discharge.
4. Any change in wart or mole.
5. Persistent indigestion or difficult swallowing.
6. Persistent hoarseness or cough.
7. Any change in normal bowel habits.

Ten years later, the order was rearranged putting the "unusual bleeding or discharge" in the first place. The signals were retitled and reworded slightly through the years, until the wording was changed in 1969 to the acronym CAUTION. The first letter of each sentence was lined up to spell CAUTION.

Change in bowel or bladder habits.
Asore that does not heal.
Unusual bleeding or discharge.
Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere.
Indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
Obvious change in wart or mole.
Nagging cough or hoarseness.

The warning signals remained as above until their use was discontinued in the early 1980's.

Around the same time the cancer signals campaign began, Dr. Sidney Farber, one of the Society's first research grantees, had achieved the first temporary cancer remission using the drug aminopterin, thus beginning the modern day era of chemotherapy for cancer treatment. Over the years, scientists supported by the American Cancer Society have established the link between cancer and smoking, demonstrated the effectiveness of the Pap smear, developed cancer fighting drugs and biological response modifiers such as interferon, dramatically increased the cure rate for childhood leukemia, proved the safety and effectiveness of mammography, and much, much more. All told, the Society has committed nearly $2.2 billion to research, funding 30 Nobel Prize winners, often early in their careers before they had received recognition and monetary support for their work. (For a listing of accomplishments, refer to the American Cancer Society Accomplishments 1946 - 1999.)

Another historical point of interest is the use of the sword as a symbol for the American Cancer Society. The sword had its origin in a nationwide poster contest in 1928 sponsored by the national society, then called American Society for the Control of Cancer, and the local division, the New York City Cancer Committee. George E. Durant of Brooklyn won the contest, receiving a first prize of $500. He explained that he selected the sword to express the crusading spirit of the cancer control movement. The twin-serpent caduceus, forming the hilt, emphasizes the medical and scientific nature of the Society's program. Classically, twined serpents represent healing of the sick and creativity of the healthy. Since 1928, the American Cancer Society has used the sword as its symbol as it continues to champion the causes of cancer prevention, eliminating suffering from cancer and saving lives.


ACS Mission Statement

The American Cancer Society
is the nationwide community- based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

International Mission Statement

The American Cancer Society's
international mission concentrates on capacity building in developing cancer societies and on collaboration with other cancer-related organizations throughout the world in carrying out shared strategic directions.


The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a nationwide, community- based voluntary health organization. Headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the ACS has state divisions and more than 3,400 local offices.


The goal of the American Cancer Society (ACS) is to prevent cancer, save lives, and diminish suffering from cancer. Enter the areas below to learn more about ACS efforts to meet this goal.


For more than 80 years, ACS has led the way in cancer research. Learn about our program that includes extramural grants, behavioral research, intramural epidemiology, and surveillance research.

Cancer Information Services

One of the primary goals of ACS is to provide the most accurate, up- to- date information on cancer. Learn about our current information resources and programs.

Advocacy & Public Policy

See how ACS promotes beneficial policies, laws, and regulations for patients and families affected by cancer.

Community Programs & Services

Find out about the local programs established by ACS that serve to educate the public about cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, survival, and quality of life.