In 1985, compelled by the memory of her late father, Edward P. Richardson, who had died of cancer one year earlier, Carolyn Aldigé embarked on a mission. She founded the Prevent Cancer Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, with the hope of sparing others from the pain and suffering caused by cancer. Aldigé believed firmly that an emphasis on prevention, not just treatment, could help decrease cancer deaths and incidence rates. Since then, through its research, education and outreach efforts, the Foundation has worked hard to spread the prevention message to the public, spurring groundbreaking research and new ways to reach captive audiences.
In the 1980s, upon starting the Foundation, Aldigé recalls, “Everyone was focused on the ‘magic bullet’ and everyone was focused on finding something that was going to cure cancer. And that’s what people thought was going to be the solution—a cure. Prevention was not in the mainstream. I think the attitude of most people was that cancer was a disease you were either going to get or you weren’t. There wasn’t anything you could do to keep yourself from getting it. The screening technologies were not nearly as good as they are now. We understood that it was a disease caused by genetic mutations, but we didn’t understand nearly as much as we do now about the science of how those mutations lead to cancer.”
Over the years the Foundation has invested millions to support cancer research to better understand the disease, funding many impressive discoveries. Aldigé has met dozens of researchers supported by the Foundation and followed their careers at leading medical institutions. Many researchers have approached Aldigé saying, “You gave me my first grant and here’s what I’ve done.” And some of them are now scientific superstars.
The climate within the cancer world has changed dramatically in recent years. In 2007, cancer deaths declined for the second straight year, with many experts crediting wider screening efforts for major cancers, such as colon, prostate and breast, as well as fewer smokers and better treatments. In addition, Americans are surviving cancer longer, as the five-year survival rate has risen from 53 percent to 66 percent, according to recent data.
This news is encouraging to Aldigé, a much sought-after speaker who travels around the world delivering messages of prevention that are increasingly popular in the public and in the media. “Cancer is a disease that can be prevented and there are many actions you can take to reduce your individual risk of developing cancer,” she says.
Even though almost one-half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States are at risk for developing cancer within their lifetime, preventive methods–including early detection, screening, a healthy diet and an exercise regimen–can make a difference. Coupled with improving technology and research, the Foundation is optimistic that cancer trends will continue to improve.
Aldigé encourages everyone to be aware of their health and follow simple guidelines that can help detect cancer in early stages. “The actions you take to prevent cancer can prevent a whole host of chronic diseases, not just one.”
Our Foundation’s future work will certainly help ensure that Carolyn Aldigé’s vision will have a long-lasting impact on cancer prevention for years to come.