The “Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer,” emerging from a collaboration of the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries, the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Cancer Society, shows declines in cancer rates and improved survival. It helps reassure us that the resources invested to fight cancer have not been misplaced.
Yet those resources are threatened. Toward the end of the Bush administration, NCI funding flat-lined. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided a welcome boost allocating millions for NCI research grants. Last month, the House passed a budget plan that would cut National Institutes of Health funding by $1.6 billion, leading to fewer grants from the NCI.
In February, Stevens and colleagues wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that 1 of 5 major medical advances approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 1990 and 2007 originated in a federally funded laboratory. This includes more than 40 anticancer drugs, some of which you probably recognize: bortezomib, carboplatin, cisplatin, doxorubicin, imatinib, paclitaxel, sunitinib. How many lives have these drugs saved or prolonged?
Not everyone agrees about what to leave in the federal budget and what to remove, but we healthcare workers tend to divorce spending on cancer research or patient programs from our political leanings. For us, it is an issue of protecting our patients, who are not just a number in a report. With so much promising research under way and such great need, it is painful to imagine what might be accomplished for the want of a sliver of the federal budget.
Some say we have pushed billions at the cancer problem without solving it—but the money hasn’t been wasted. In the Journal of the NCI last month, Gambacorti-Passerini and associates wrote that patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) in remission after imatinib therapy have a normal life expectancy. Before imatinib, life expectancy for patients with CML was 3 to 5 years. Last year, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers reported that 3 of every 4 women diagnosed with breast cancer at their institution in 1944 died within 10 years. In 2004, 3 out of 4 patients diagnosed survived 10 years!
The declines in cancer incidence and mortality are heartening, but as the proportion of our population aged ≥65 years grows, cancer rates will grow, too. Childhood cancers continue to increase.
As nurses, we know cancer research is not only about helping patients live longer, but also about helping them live better. If everyone spent 1 week as a nurse on a pediatric cancer ward, we’d see a unanimous call to increase cancer research funding, with everyone agreed that curing cancer and stopping its burden outweighs anyone’s political points.
Funding is, of course, only part of the equation for improving outcomes. Nurses are another important part. Our goal with every issue of The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA is to provide the information you need to play that part. This issue includes studies that had federal funding and others that were privately funded. All signal promise to improve care.
We are also introducing two new departments: The Whole Patient, focusing on quality-of-life issues; and News in Review, keeping you current on prevalent research taking place outside the conference setting, along with regulatory and legislative news. We will still provide continuing education, conference highlights, and advice from peers.
Please take a moment to let us know your thoughts about these changes