SAN FRANCISCO — Cancer in its many forms is and will continue to be the thorniest health problem facing the country and the world.

Large proportions of Americans will be stricken with cancer at some time in their lives, and despite some potential advancements in understanding what causes cancer that are on the horizon, it's not going to be cured anytime soon.

That was made clear at the Health Forum and American Hospital Association Leadership Summit in a keynote speech by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and author of the book "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer."

Mukherjee, as best he could in less than an hour, encapsulated centuries of history of cancer, describing how hope regarding treatment comes in waves, and the world is currently in a position where there is some hope for dealing with the scourge.

But I suggest reading his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the subject — that's what I'm going to do — because only Mukherjee, with his deep understanding of cancer, can do the topic of his book justice.

Something he mentioned in the Q&A portion of his talk is worth noting though — the threat that reduced NIH funding poses to medical research of all types. His concerns echo those displayed by another major researcher, Kevin Tracey, M.D., president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System , who eagearly discussed the problem  with H&HN earlier this year, in a story about bioelectronic medicine.

Mukherjee believes the issue is important enough that he serves on an advisory committee to a group called ACT for NIH that is pushing for legislation to increase funding for the institute. Though not everyone in medicine supports the bill, he said its passage by the house should be deemed a success. "It's a long road ahead but at least we’re trying to do something concrete about it," Mukherjee said.

Let’s hope Congress does act to bring funding back closer to historical, inflation-adjusted levels and without making too many concessions that would weaken drug and device oversight.