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U.S. Urged to Renew the War on Cancer

Leadership has to come from White House to offset growing complacency, presidential panel says

THURSDAY, Oct. 23, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- America has grown complacent in its war on cancer, so it must redouble its efforts to defeat this often-deadly disease. And the leadership for this campaign must come directly from the White House.

That's the assessment of a report, Maximizing Our Nation's Investment in Cancer, released Thursday by the President's Cancer Panel, which calls for a three-pronged approach to defeat this "bioterrorist within."

"This has to get back on the national political agenda. It has to come from the White House," said panel member Margaret Kripke, a professor emerita of immunology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

"We can no longer afford to have 1,500 people dying a day from the disease," Kripke said. "Part of making it a national priority is getting it to the White House. We need to get the funding issue addressed, but also the continuity issue. The director of the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute are presidential appointees and, if that's not high on the radar screen, sometimes those appointments languish."

The three-member panel, which also includes famed bicycle racer and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall of the Howard University School of Medicine, is sending the report to the Bush administration, as well as to the Obama and McCain campaigns.

Every day, 4,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with some form of cancer, and another 1,500 die from the disease. In 2008, this will mean 1.4 million new cases and 565,000 cancer-related deaths.

An estimated 40 percent of the U.S. population will develop cancer at some point in their lives. And with the population rapidly aging, the problem will only become worse, the report stated.

In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon declared a national war on cancer. And, although there have been important advances since then, urgency seems to be declining, the panel said.

"It was felt that having the direct attention of the president, that somehow the battle against cancer will remain a high priority. But over the years, we have forgotten that, and, in the last five to seven years, with President Bush being so occupied with problems in Iraq, we have seen funding diminish," said Dr. Kishan Pandya, clinical director of hematology-oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center's James P. Wilmot Cancer Center. "The focus that was there in the earlier era seems to have become diffused."

In addition to declining research funding, the report also identified other trouble spots: not enough collaboration among cancer institutions, a fragmented health-care system and continued tobacco use.

The three recommendations put forth by the panel are:

  • Making the treatment and prevention of cancer a national priority, with direction coming straight from the White House.
  • Ensuring that all Americans have timely access to needed health care and prevention measures. This would entail "comprehensive health care reform," the report stated. "Some of the things that will make the biggest impact are ones that are pretty obvious and have to do with applying what we already know," Kripke said. "That's the access-to-cancer-care issue."
  • Ending the "scourge of tobacco," which is a known cause of at least 15 different types of cancer, accounts for 30 percent or more of all cancer deaths, and 87 percent of deaths from lung cancer, according to the report. "We have the ability. We know how to do this," Kripke said.

More information

View the full report at the National Cancer Institute.

SOURCES: Margaret L. Kripke, Ph.D., professor emerita, immunology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Kishan Pandya, M.D., professor, medicine and oncology, and clinical director, hematology-oncology, James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y.; Maximizing Our Nation's Investment in Cancer: Three Crucial Actions for America's Health
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