Putting the Squeeze on Cancer
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By Pedro Linger Gasiglia (photographs) and Jenny Song (text)

Putting the Squeeze on Cancer

Cancer survivorship is finally going up, but funding for research isn’t

By Pedro Linger Gasiglia (photographs) and Jenny Song (text)


During an era of robust growth for the National Cancer Institute (NCI), funding jumped 90 percent from 1998 to 2005. But with the 2007 NCI budget remaining essentially the same as last year’s, at $4.79 billion, many in the cancer community fear that insufficient funding could slow the recent progress that those research dollars appear to have fueled.

According to the American Cancer Society, the total number of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. declined for the second straight year from 2003 to 2004, the latest years for which data are available, despite an aging and growing population. Many researchers believe the overall decline in deaths is due to increased prevention, early detection and new treatments that were tested in clinical trials.

Yet, as a result of its limited funds, the NCI has asked its cooperative cancer groups (CCG) around the country to reduce clinical trial enrollment by 3,000 patients, says medical oncologist Robert L. Comis, the president and chairman of the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups. The CCGs may have to close or delay half of the clinical trials they conduct this year, possibly 95 trials. In 2007, funding for the cooperative groups is predicted to fall to $130 million, down from $162 million in 2002, says Comis.

“The major cancers that are going to be affected are melanoma, sarcomas, rare childhood tumors, head and neck cancers and brain tumors,” he says. Additionally, “in some of the phase II studies, there may be significant delays.”

What’s more, the president’s recent proposal for next year’s budget may signal a downward trend. On Feb. 5, President Bush proposed $28.9 billion for the 2008 National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget, which includes $4.78 billion for the NCI—$11 million less than the 2007 NCI budget. According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the proposed cut would leave the NCI with less money next year than it had in 2005, even before inflation is factored in.

In light of the uncertainties in cancer research funding, CR invited seven patient advocates from various grassroots and global organizations to discuss their views on the future of cancer research and the impact of funding on survivorship and patient care. Photographer Pedro Linger Gasiglia documented the lively dialogue at Lucky Strike restaurant in New York City on Feb. 15.



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