Kentucky voices: Federal funds for cancer research are crucial

As federal lawmakers determine priorities, it is essential to preserve funding for cancer and biomedical research.

Such work is a key investment that will pay off in lives saved, improvements in public health, continued innovation and economic growth.

Cancer touches us all, directly or indirectly. More than 1,500 Americans die from cancer every day. Kentucky has one of the highest rates of cancer in the country, including the highest rate of lung cancer and second-highest rate of colon cancer.

Our country's cancer research enterprise includes laboratory scientists, physician-scientists, clinicians, cancer survivors, patient advocates, research institutions, government agencies — particularly the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

They are responsible for breakthroughs that benefit cancer patients everywhere, including here at the Markey Cancer Center.

According to the recent American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Progress Report 2011, there has been significant advance against cancer, reaching back 40 years when the National Cancer Act was signed into law:

Nationally, from 1990 to 2007, death rates from all cancers combined dropped 22 percent for men and 14 percent for women.

Breast cancer deaths fell about 28 percent

Cervical cancer deaths dropped nearly 31 percent.

Colorectal cancer deaths fell 28 percent in women and 33 percent in men.

Prostate cancer deaths fell 39 percent.

Stomach cancer deaths fell 34 percent in women and 43 percent in men.

Markey patients have shown similar successes, and we attribute much of it to the research being performed here in Lexington. Data show that Markey patients have significantly better five-year survival rates than patients who were treated elsewhere for brain, breast, liver, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, or for stage IV colorectal cancer.

In addition, Markey patients with brain, lung, liver, ovarian and stage IV colorectal cancers show higher five-year survival rates than patients treated elsewhere nationwide.

Our researchers currently have 95 therapeutic trials open, 83 of which receive federal funding.

With Markey applying for an NCI designation next year, the NCI's continued funding is more important than ever for Kentuckians. Centers that earn the designation receive additional annual funding as well as access to the latest in national clinical trials.

Our nation's policy makers should stand up for the medical science supported by NCI and NIH and preserve funding for these institutions. For the sake of the thousands of Kentuckians who will be diagnosed with cancer and those struggling now with this devastating disease, this investment in cancer and biomedical research will provide them with hope for a much brighter future.