In 1971, the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon, declared ‘war’ on cancer. Since then, billions of dollars have been poured into cancer research worldwide, but a cure for the disease is still a long way off. In this Nature Video, reporter Lorna Stewart marks the scientific milestones of the past four decades. She explores cancer genetics with Nobel laureate Michael Bishop, vaccines with fellow laureate Harald zur Hausen, and two young researchers tell Lorna about some of cancer research’s greatest success stories.