DeVita, Marks, Zubrod: Oral histories with the people who shaped the NCA

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In August, the Cancer History Project is highlighting oral histories, and is continuing to conduct oral histories with people who have made important contributions to oncology—along with patients who have shared their stories with us. 

These stories are featured on the Cancer History Project podcast, and can also be found here

If there is someone at your institution who we should speak with, email us at

National Cancer Act oral histories 

The following oral histories are available as transcripts of interviews conducted from 1995 through 1999 by NIH as part of the National Cancer Act Oral History project. They have been made available through the Cancer History Project by NCI. These stories and others can be found at our NCA Oral History tag

  • Norman Anderson, MD
    Interview conducted Feb. 25, 1995
    Norman Anderson worked on centrifuge development at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Interview was conducted by Carl G. Baker, former director of NCI.
  • Carl G. Baker, MD
    Interview conducted Nov. 20, 1996
    Carl Baker joined NCI as a fellow in 1949 and later became Associate Director of Program.
  • Calvin B. Baldwin, Jr.
    Interview conducted Dec. 31, 1997
    Calvin B. Baldwin, Jr. was an executive officer at NCI during the 1970s and an Associate Director for Administration at the NIH. He describes his experiences working at the NCI and background on the War on Cancer. 
  • Nathaniel Berlin, MD
    Interview conducted June 30, 1997
    Nathaniel Berlin, an experimental hematologist, joined NCI in 1956 as Head of the Metabolism Service in the General Medicine Branch and held that position until 1966, when he became Chief of NCI’s Metabolism Branch until 1971.
  • Vincent T. DeVita, Jr., MD
    Interview conducted June 5, 1997
    Vincent T. DeVita, Jr. was Director of the NCI from July 9, 1980 to Sept. 1, 1988. The interview was conducted by Gretchen A. Case at DeVita’s office at the Yale Cancer Center as part of the NCI Oral History Project.
  • Paul Marks, MD
    Interview conducted July 14, 1999
    This interview with Paul Marks concentrates on the creation of the National Cancer Program, established by the 1972 National Cancer Act. The interview was conducted by Gretchen Case in the Office of Marks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
  • J. Palmer Saunders, MD
    Interview conducted July 22, 1998
    J. Palmer Saunders was the director of the  Division of Cancer Research, Resources and Centers at NCI.
  • John L. Ziegler, MD
    Interview conducted Aug. 4, 1998
    John L. Ziegler pioneered new treatments for Burkitt’s lymphoma among children in Africa and worked on Kaposi’s sarcoma during the early AIDS epidemic.
  • C. Gordon Zubrod, MD
    Interviews conducted May 27, 1997 and June 27, 1997
    Charles Gordon Zubrod, an oncologist at NCI who became Head of the Division of Cancer Treatment in 1956 and Scientific Director in 1961, introduced the use of platinum-containing compounds (cisplatin) in chemotherapy. Zubrod was one of the recipients of the 1972 Albert Lasker Awards. Zubrod’s memoir is available here.

Cancer History Project podcast

The Cancer History Project launched a podcast this February, and is available anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Apple podcasts
Google podcasts
Radio Public

Top 10 episodes:

  1. Odunsi, Pisters, Platanias, and Ulrich: How immigrating to the U.S. shaped their perspectives on oncology
    April 22, 2022
  2. Jerome Yates: “We were like the Rodney Dangerfields of medicine in the late ‘60s.”
    April 15, 2022
  3. Panel: Knudsen, Hudis, Hughes-Halbert, Leader, Willman propose action plan on health equity
    May 13, 2022
  4. Tim Wendel on the “Cancer Cowboys” and getting to know the ALGB
    March 18, 2022
  5. Bill Haney on the making of “Jim Allison: Breakthrough”
    May 20, 2022
  6. Harold Freeman, father of patient navigation, on cutting the cancer out of Harlem
    Feb. 11, 2022
  7. Dave Boule confronted polycythemia vera with an accountant’s consistency
    June 17, 2022
  8. How Beth Carner went from six weeks left to live with stage 4 colon cancer to complete remission
    June 10, 2022
  9. Black History Month panel: “We need to talk about justice”
    Feb. 25, 2022
  10. Edith Mitchell on her path from Tennessee farm to becoming a cancer doctor and brigadier general
    Feb. 18, 2022

Contributor podcasts 

In a recording of Cancer Answers: The History of Chemotherapy, from July 6, 2008, Ed Chu interviews Vince DeVita about the history of chemotherapy.

The following is an excerpt of the conversation between Chu and DeVita:

DeVita: There is an Egyptian papyrus that actually talks about using topical chemicals, herbs, and extracts of herbs and so forth. So you can go as far back as you want, but it was really not until around the mid 1930s that people began to think you could realistically use chemicals for cancer. The first major screening program was started in around 1935, but frankly, the date that people use for the birth of chemotherapy is 1943, and it was here at Yale.

Based on experiences in World War I and then an accident in World War II with mustard gas, data showed that people who died had an atrophy of their bone marrow and their lymph nodes disappeared. It was then thought that maybe they would be useful chemicals for treating a group of diseases called lymphoma, or cancers of the lymph nodes. Alfred Gilman, here at Yale, and Gustaf Lindskog, who was a thoracic surgeon at that time, used an animal model of lymphoma and screened these chemicals. They found that it actually worked and so they convinced Lindskog, who had a patient who was having trouble breathing because of a large tumor mass in their neck, to let them test it.

This was before the FDA was involved in these things, and they got a very dramatic response that started the whole interest in cancer chemotherapy. That paper was not published until 1946 because of the secrecy of the war gas program, but it is generally regarded as the beginning of human cancer chemotherapy.

The Uromigos Podcast: The Legends of GU Oncology

Brian Rini and Thomas Powles are documenting genitourinary oncology history in a series on the Uromigos Podcast. A story about their efforts appears here.  

The Your Stories Podcast: By Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation 

The Your Stories Podcast, produced by Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, features candid conversations between patients with cancer, their family and friends, doctors, and researchers. 

Contributor spotlight: Sarah Cannon

Beyond chemotherapy, patients had very few treatment options to fight cancer until the mid-1990s. At the time, patients could only access clinical trials in academic settings and there were only a small number of patients participating in research, almost all of whom had been heavily pre-treated. With the majority of people facing cancer seeking treatments through their local community programs, access to trial options was limited and so was the progress being made to identify better therapies.

Two academic research leaders, Anthony Greco and John Hainsworth, had a solution: start a research program in the community, where more people could access more trial options. In 1993, they formed what is now known as Sarah Cannon Research Institute, with the backing of HCA Healthcare and Tennessee Oncology. Many doubted that forming this type of research program would work, but nearly 30 years later, the team at Sarah Cannon has demonstrated that it has and continues to make an impact by serving patients in the community.

This column features the latest posts to the Cancer History Project by our growing list of contributors

The Cancer History Project is a free, web-based, collaborative resource intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act and designed to continue in perpetuity. The objective is to assemble a robust collection of historical documents and make them freely available.  

Access to the Cancer History Project is open to the public at You can also follow us on Twitter at @CancerHistProj, or follow our podcast.

Is your institution a contributor to the Cancer History Project? Eligible institutions include cancer centers, advocacy groups, professional societies, pharmaceutical companies, and key organizations in oncology. 

To apply to become a contributor, please contact

Table of Contents


Can you imagine, as a radiation oncologist, you have to shelter your patients in a Co-60 vault to protect them from missiles, provide them with water by melting snow, feed them, keep them warm by using a backup power generator, and evacuate them just two hours before the missile destroys the radiation oncology department? 
Research shows that cancer patients who receive navigation have improved survival, access to advanced care like clinical trials, and services like genetic testing and palliative care. Navigation often results in increased screening and patients receiving treatment sooner, resulting in improved quality of life and more cancer-free days.