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Cancer impacts not only the patient, but also his or her family and community. In North America 1 in 3 individuals born during the last decade will experience cancer at some point in their lifetime. By the year 2000 the figure will be one in every two. One in four to one in five North Americans will die of cancer. Thus most individuals in North America have some experience of the disease, if not personally, then in a family member, friend or acquaintance.
In addition to its pervasive presence in the community, the disease is widely feared the world over as synonymous with suffering and death. Patients may be stigmatized and experience social isolation and family tensions as well as inability to get insurance or even job loss with economic dependence aggravated by high costs of medical care if there is no health insurance. Progress in controlling cancer has been frustratingly slow. Critics disagree how resources should be distributed between treatment and prevention or between research and putting existing knowledge into practice.