Thursday, June 07, 2007
Meeting of the minds on cancer
Although I have so far been spared the diagnosis of cancer, I did watch my mother die from lung cancer. That was less than eight years ago. But so much has happened in cancer research and treatment in that short time. Had she received her diagnosis today, I'm confident she would have lived longer than the three months she had between diagnosis and death. Because of medical advances in treatment and therapy, we now have more cancer survivors in the United States than ever - 10 million - and experts believe that number can double in the next decade.
Earlier this week, more than 32,000 cancer specialists met in Chicago, Illinois, to present and learn about the latest successes (and a few failures) in cancer research and treatments. Over 4,000 new studies were presented at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. There were no blockbuster breakthroughs or discoveries, but a lot of studies were presented, showing - as Dr. Archie Bleyer, a Bend, Oregon, oncologist, put it, "Investment in cancer research is paying off."
For the first time, researchers have found a way to treat advanced liver cancer and extend survival (Nexavar - Full Story). Doctors also reported on better, more tolerable treatments for some of the other, more difficult cancers - like ovary, thyroid and kidney. Until recently, there were no good treatments available for these cancer patients. But according to many cancer specialists, this progress is in danger of seriously slowing down. That's because the funding of cancer research is dwindling.
Dr. Allen Lichter, ASCO's vice president & CEO and former dean of the University of Michigan's Medical School, told reporters at the beginning of the conference, "We are now in the midst of the longest sustained period of flat funding in research in decades." He says in real dollars, the funding of the National Cancer Institutes has actually declined 12 percent over the past four years.
Many doctors I spoke with at this conference are concerned about the lack of research funding. Some are finding alternative resources such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation. But these alternatives cannot replace what the federal government can offer. Armstrong, a cancer survivor himself, told you earlier this year how he's running out of patience on this funding issue and wants congressional leaders to act. (Full Story)
Slowing down the pace of cancer research and breakthroughs can be devastating to those suffering from the disease. "1,500 people will die from cancer today," Lichter told reporters. But there are only so many tax dollars to go around.
Next June, more than 32,000 cancer specialists will gather in Chicago again. Will cancer research funding be an even bigger issue then? What should be done? Should more tax dollars go to cancer research? Should, as Lance Armstrong suggests, cancer research be a more prominent topic discussed among our elected and potentially future elected officials? .
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