Skip to content

A Conversation With Vincent DeVita, M.D.

The oncology pioneer discusses his memoir, 'The Death of Cancer'

En español | (Video) Dr. Vincent T. DeVita on 'The Death of Cancer': The pioneer in cancer treatment for 50 years, former director of the National Cancer Institute and author of the controversial memoir The Death of Cancer talks about his personal experience of beating cancer.

Are we really going to end the disease?

Given our complex biology, I think we’ll always get cancer. I do believe we will see the end of cancer as a major public health issue. 

What’s in the way?

Most of the obstacles are not scientific. They’re more about a reluctance to drop outdated beliefs, bureaucratic battles among physicians and medical groups, and a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that has not caught up with the innovations in cancer drug development.

How would you change the FDA’s process of approving new cancer drugs?

Many new cancer drugs work better in combination, but the FDA requires that they be tested one at a time. This is an awfully slow process. Thousands of people are being denied early access to drugs that work because of this slow process.

You’ve said there are therapies that could cure an additional 100,000 patients a year.

That’s a conservative number that the American Cancer Society has cited. It’s based on access to care, which can be uneven across this country. This does not necessarily mean access to new drugs — just getting everything that we already know works. That’s why I say that if you go to a doctor and he says you have cancer and he can do nothing for you, find another doctor.

If not end cancer, would you say we will soon cure it?

There is a tendency today not to want to use the word “cure,” but patients we treated back in the 1960s have been alive and free of disease for 44 years. Isn’t that a cure?