American Cancer Society

As the largest voluntary health organization in the United States, the American Cancer Society is passionately committed to saving lives from cancer. We’re working to create a world with less cancer and more birthdays – a world where cancer never steals another year  from anyone’s life. We combine our relentless passion with the wisdom of nearly a century of experience to make this vision a reality, and we get results. We save lives by helping people stay well, helping people get well, by finding cures, and fighting back. Thanks in part to this work, nearly 14 million cancer survivors and countless others who have avoided the disease will celebrate another birthday this year.

How the American Cancer Society Is Organized

The American Cancer Society, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) non profit corporation governed by a Board of Directors that sets policy, develops and approves an enterprise-wide strategic plan and related resource allocation, and is responsible for the performance of the organization as a whole, with the advice and support of regionally based volunteer boards.

The Society’s structure includes a central corporate office in Atlanta, Georgia, regional offices supporting 12 geographic Divisions, and more than 900 local offices in those regions. The corporate office is responsible for overall strategic planning; corporate support services such as human resources, financial management, IT, etc.; development and implementation of global and nationwide endeavors such as our groundbreaking research program, our international program, and 24-hour call center; and provides technical support and materials to regional and local offices for local delivery.

With a presence in more than 5,100 communities, the American Cancer Society fights for every life threatened by every cancer in every community. Our regional and local offices are organized to engage communities in the cancer fight, delivering lifesaving programs and services and raising money at the local level. Offices are strategically placed around the country in an effort to maximize the impact of our efforts, and to be as efficient as possible with the money donated to the Society to fight cancer and save lives.


As a global grassroots force, the Society relies on the strength of more than three million dedicated volunteers. From leadership volunteers who set strategy and policy to members of the community who organize special events, patient support, and education programs, Society volunteers, sup-ported by professional staff, drive every part of our mission. The Society’s vast array of volunteer opportunities empowers people from every community to play a role in saving lives, while they fulfill their own.

How the American Cancer Society Is Saving Lives

Together with our millions of supporters, the American Cancer Society is saving lives by helping people stay well, helping people get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back. No other cancer-fighting organization has such a comprehensive mission.

Stay well: We help you take steps to prevent cancer or detect it at its earliest, most treatable stage. We help people eat right, get active, quit smoking, and get screenings.

We develop guidelines for recommended cancer screenings and nutrition and physical activity, so people know what tests they need to find cancer early and how to prevent the disease.

On our Web site,, individuals can create a personalized health action plan to discuss with their doctor that shows which cancer screening tests are right for them, as well as healthy lifestyle choices to consider.

Through the Quit For Life® Program, brought to you by the American Cancer Society and Alere Wellbeing, we help people to quit smoking by providing them with the resources they need to make a quit attempt and stay tobacco-free.

Get well: We’re in your corner around the clock to guide you through a cancer experience.

We know that every cancer patient is a fighter – and we’re in the ring with you through every round.

Whether you have questions about cancer, need practical solutions to daily problems like finding a ride to treatment, or just want support from someone who has been through it all before, we’ve got answers around the clock.

Our phone lines, at 1-800-227-2345, are open every minute of every day and night to help connect people with the answers they need. Each year, we provide information, help, and support to the nearly one million individuals who call us or contact us online. Our Web site, which serves more than 23 million visitors each year, offers access to the latest information and news on cancer and helps people find programs and services in their area.

Through the American Cancer Society Clinical Trials Matching Service, we connect patients with more than 64,000 different treatment options. We also offer an online support community for cancer survivors and caregivers that has brought together more than 93,000 people since 2000.

Through our American Cancer Society Hope Lodge® network, we provide cancer patients and their families with a free place to stay when they have to travel far from home for treatment. In 2011, we provided more than 250,000 nights of free lodging to nearly 40,000 patients and caregivers, saving them more than $23 million in lodging expenses.

With 140 sites at hospitals and treatment centers across the country, the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program provides one-on-one guidance to people facing cancer through every step of their journey. In 2011, the program served more than 90,000 people and fulfilled more than 157,000 requests for services.

Find cures: We’re getting results by investing in research that helps us understand cancer’s causes, determine how best to prevent it, and discover new ways to cure it.

As the largest non-governmental founder of cancer research, having spent more than $3.8 billion on cancer research since 1946, we’ve played a role in nearly every cancer breakthrough in recent history.

Our own research and that of our funded researchers helped to confirm the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, established the link between obesity and multiple cancers, developed drugs to treat leukemia and advanced breast cancer, and showed that mammography is the most effective way to detect breast cancer.

We fund beginning researchers with cutting-edge ideas early in their careers – 46 of whom have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, the highest accolade in scientific achievement.

Fight back: We help pass laws that defeat cancer and rally communities to join the fight.

At its core, the American Cancer Society is a grassroots force of three million passionate volunteers who tirelessly seek to save lives from cancer. We work with lawmakers everywhere to make this world a healthier place to live and we rally communities around the globe to join our fight.

Whether it’s passing smoke-free laws, increasing funding for cancer research, improving access to quality health care, or inspiring communities to take up the fight, we fight on all fronts, because the lessons we learn from one battlefield can mean victory on another.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the Society and our non-profit, non-partisan advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action NetworkSM (ACS CAN), more than 79 percent of the U.S. population is now covered by some form of smoke-free law. Together with ACS CAN, we have helped pass state laws ensuring that people have access to and coverage for lifesaving cancer screenings and treatments. We have helped more than three million uninsured, under insured, and low-income women get breast and cervical cancer screening tests since 1991, and, along with ACS CAN, we have successfully fought for legislation protecting this care.

One in every 100 Americans participates in one of the nearly 5,100 American Cancer Society Relay For Life® events held nationwide each year, which comprise the world’s largest movement to end cancer.

The American Cancer Society is the leader in the fight to end breast cancer. Our Making Strides Against Breast Cancer® events unite communities across the nation to help save lives from breast cancer — and together, to get to the finish line faster.

What is cancer?

Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in part of the body begin to grow out of control.  Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and even death.

Normal cells in the body

The body is made up of trillions of living cells. Normal body cells grow, divide into new cells, and die in an orderly fashion. During the early years of a person’s life, normal cells divide faster to allow the person to grow. After the person becomes an adult, most cells divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells or to repair injuries.

How cancer starts

Cancer starts when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. There are many kinds of cancer, but they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.

Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, ab-normal cells. Cancer cells can also invade (grow into) other tissues, something that normal cells cannot do. Growing out of control and invading other tissues are what makes a cell a cancer cell.

Cells become cancer cells because of damage to DNA. DNA is in every cell and directs all its actions. In a normal cell, when DNA gets damaged the cell either repairs the damage or the cell dies. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA isn’t re-paired, and the cell doesn’t die like it should. Instead, this cell goes on making new cells that the body doesn’t need. These new cells all have the same damaged DNA as the first cell does.

People can inherit damaged DNA, but most DNA damage is caused by mistakes that happen while the normal cell is re-producing or by something in our environment. Sometimes the cause of the DNA damage is something obvious, like cigarette smoking. But often no clear cause is found.

In most cases the cancer cells form a tumor, also called a mass or a lump. Some cancers, like leukemia, rarely form tumors. Instead, these cancers involve the blood and blood-forming organs, and the cancer cells circulate through other tissues where they grow.

What is cancer?

Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and even death.

How many people alive today have ever had cancer?

Today, more than 13 million people alive in the United States have had some type of cancer. Some of these people are cancer-free; others still have it.

Years ago, most people who had cancer did not live very long. That is not the case anymore. Every year more and more people survive cancer. This is especially true of children with cancer and those whose cancers were found early, before they spread.

The survival rates are different for people with different types of cancers. Some types of cancer grow very slowly. Some respond to treatment very well. Others grow and spread faster and are harder to treat. If you know someone who has cancer, keep in mind that what happens to them could be very different from what happens to someone else with another type of cancer.

How common is cancer?

Half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes.

Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s lifestyle, for example, by avoiding tobacco, limiting time in the sun, being physically active, staying at a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and healthy eating.

For most types of cancer, the sooner a cancer is found and treated, the better the chances are for living for many years.

Bottom line

No one knows the exact cause of most cases of cancer. We know that certain changes in our cells can cause cancer to start, but we don’t yet know exactly how it all happens. Scientists are studying this problem and learning more about the many steps it takes for cancers to form and grow. Although some of the factors in these steps may be a lot alike, the process that happens in the cells is generally different for each type of cancer.