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The Cancer Society of Finland (CSF) comprises 18 member associations and the Finnish Cancer Foundation, of which the Finnish Cancer Registry, which is maintained by the CSF, is a part. Founded in 1936, the CSF is one of the largest patient and public health organisations in Finland and a national expert organisation. The Cancer Foundation, established in 1948, is the largest private funder of cancer research in Finland. The Finnish Cancer Registry, established in 1952, is a statistical and epidemiological research institute that maintains a database of all cancer cases diagnosed in Finland since the beginning of 1953.

As 2021 marked a quarter of a century since the publication of Cancer Can Be Beaten, the previous history of the Cancer Societies, the Cancer Societies decided it was time to produce their own histories of the Finnish CSF, the Finnish Cancer Foundation and the Finnish Cancer Registry, especially as their anniversaries coincided with the five-year anniversary. It was decided to publish the histories in the order of the anniversaries: 70 years of the Cancer Registry in 2022, 75 years of the Cancer Foundation in 2023 and 90 years of the CSF in 2026.

The history of the Cancer Registry, which starts the series, is like a miniature history of Finland after the Second World War. It was founded in autumn 1952 with donations in a poor country undergoing reconstruction, but immediately set about creating a comprehensive database on cancer and establishing international contacts. Within five years it had established itself and less than a decade later was invited to participate in major international cancer research projects.

In the second half of the 1960s, when the hospitals set up by the CSF became largely the responsibility of the state and the associations of municipalities, they were able to increase funding for cancer research and, in 1967, set up a mass screening registry within the Cancer Registry to monitor the quality and effectiveness of cancer screening. In 1972 the Cancer Registry was given the title of Statistical and Epidemiological Institute for Cancer Research and its staff was considerably strengthened.

The conditions for growth had now been created and the Cancer Registry made good use of them. The cancer database it maintains became almost unique in the world. It became a pioneer in screening, launching nationwide screening for cervical cancer in 1972, breast cancer in 1987 and colorectal cancer in 2022. As a research institute, it achieved world renown thanks to its survival and occupational exposure surveys and cancer maps, among other things.

This book is attempts describe how all this could have happened. Who were the visionaries who saw progress as feasible, who were the people who made it possible and who were the financiers who made it possible. The description is set against a background of timelines at the bottom of the pages, linking the stages of the Cancer Registry to events in world and Finnish history.

The work was initiated by a working group consisting of Sakari Karjalainen, Secretary General of the CSF, Satu Lipponen, Director of Planning and Strategy, and Anu Kytölä, Communications Specialist. Karjalainen guided me through the work and was a very useful advisor during the writing process. Kytölä, on the other hand, skilfully handled the tasks of editor and photo editor. Management assistant Auli Jaatinen opened my way to the archives of the Cancer Organisations and was also an important source of information. My warmest thanks to all of them.

My writing work was greatly facilitated by the help of the previous managers of the Cancer Registry, Matti Hakama, Lyly Tepo, Timo Hakulinen, Nea Malila and Eero Pukkala. I thank them all for their advice, additions, clarifications and corrections. Hakama, Hakulinen and Pukkala also contributed descriptions of their own activities, which are particularly valuable.

The former Secretaries General of the CSF, Liisa Elovainio, Harri Vertio and Sakari Karjalainen, also contributed to the book by describing the importance of the Cancer Registry. I thank them not only for their contributions but also for their encouragement.

Timang’s graphic designer Anne Kaikkonen has designed the layout and artwork for the work. The photographs are mainly from the image collections of cancer organisations, with new photos of old leaders taken by photographers Vesa Tyni (others) and Eeva Anundi (Eero Pukkala). The infographics are from the Cancer 2020 report and the Cancer Registry collections. I would like to thank all those involved in the illustration of the work for their excellent cooperation.

The work is written as a scientific study, but is published without references. At the end of the book there is a list of references with all the sources used. In addition, a copy has been deposited in the archives of the CSF with the references in place.

Amidst the heatwave of August 2022 in the Taka-Töölö, Helsinki,

Allan Tiitta