cancer

In 1957, the FDA put up a warning poster in 46,000 post offices about Hoxsey's dubious cancer cure. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Cancer War: The FDA Vs. Harry Hoxsey

 

Since Congress established the National Cancer Institute in 1937, funding research to better understand — and hopefully find a cure — for the disease has been the major focus of the federal war on cancer. But on another front, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has fought a long battle against unproven remedies offered to the desperately ill by practitioners and promoters outside the medical mainstream.

In particular, the agency fought a pitched battle in the 1950s and early 1960s against a Texas-based self-styled healer named Harry Hoxsey — even taking the unusual step in 1957 of putting up posters in 46,000 post offices throughout the nation, warning people that Hoxsey's anti-cancer treatment was worthless and fraudulent. 

Sen. Matthew Mansfield Neely of West Virginia introduced the first legislation to fund cancer research. Credit: West Virginia State Archives

How the Federal Anti-Cancer Effort Began

 

Today, the federal government's National Cancer Institute invests nearly $5 billion each year in medical research aimed at learning more about various types of cancer and finding cures for them. While it's a war in which many battles still lie ahead, there have been some encouraging signs of progress, with death rates decreasing for the most common types of cancer.

But it took a long time for the federal anti-cancer effort to get rolling, and it started small. By the late 1920s, the U.S. government had made barely a token investment in fighting an affliction that at the time claimed 83.4 lives per 100,000 population, making it one of the nation's leading causes of death.

More resources needed to be invested in fighting cancer, and the man who started the battle to get that money was a colorful politician born in a West Virginia log cabin named Matthew Mansfield Neely.