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Federal dollars critical for cancer fight | Island Forum
This June, more than 300 cancer survivors will meet on the campus of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for a celebration to commemorate National Cancer Survivorship Day. This is a great event, not only for our patients, but also for the physicians and researchers at the Hutchinson Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. That’s because turning cancer patients into cancer survivors is the overarching goal and purpose of our work.
Statistics show that we are more successful at helping people survive cancer now than we have ever been. Today, 14 million cancer survivors are alive five years after diagnosis. That number was 9 million in 2001 and 3 million in 1971. By 2020, we will be celebrating 20 million survivors nationwide.
That we have more cancer survivors is a testament to decades of cancer research, most of which is funded by the federal government. Victories today have been achieved through years of dogged determination, innovation and trial. The treatments that have helped cancer patients beat long odds required years of work, often in small labs supported through government grants.
The best way to ensure that there will be more cancer survivors in the future is to support federally funded research, grow our knowledge of cancer, and develop new therapies.
However, our progress against cancer is threatened by proposed government reductions in research funding to the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, the primary federal agencies that award research grants. Despite a challenging economy and a harsh political climate, cutbacks to the current level of funding couldn’t happen at a worse time. Our country is facing what I call a “silver tsunami.” Our population is aging and baby boomers are moving into retirement. While cancer can and does strike anyone at any age, it is largely a disease of the elderly. Studies have shown that the elderly will account for 70 percent of all cancer diagnoses by 2030.
Breakthrough treatments like immunotherapy, which fights cancer with fewer side effects, are already in the pipeline. We are making progress; your family, friends and neighbors are surviving and thriving. We are learning not only how to better treat cancer, but also how to prevent the disease from ever taking hold.
Our main weapon against cancer is our ability to develop new treatments. And that means we must continue to support government funding for scientific research.
Island resident Scott Baker, M.D., is the director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Survivorship Program. He is also the director of the center’s Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Program.