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40 Years Later: Progress in the War on Cancer?

Report Highlights Advances in Cancer Treatment, but Also Sees Many Challenges Ahead

Fight Over Funding

Cancer researchers warned on Tuesday that advancements in diagnosis and treatments, especially in the area of genetic tumor typing and personalized cancer therapy, will suffer if congressional budget cutting continues.

With some cancers, there is now the potential to "understand the nuance of every patient and tailor-make their treatment," said William Dalton, PhD, MD, director and CEO of the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla.

"Now is not the time to lose momentum," said Dalton, who also chairs the science policy and legislative committee at the American Association for Cancer Research.

Congress is currently in the throes of a months-long fight over federal budgets and deficits. The deficit reduction plan passed by lawmakers over the summer cut 1% from the budget at the National Institutes of Health. That translated to cuts of about $320 million across the agency.

It's all part of efforts to control the nation's $14.3 trillion debt.

In addition, millions in research funds funneled through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus bill, are beginning to wind down.

The Obama administration asked Congress to increase the NCI budget by 13% in 2012. The White House says increasing spending will have beneficial effects throughout the economy. And that's largely the message cancer researchers are pushing in their lobbying efforts.

New Challenges Ahead

About 570,000 Americans die from cancer each year, according to federal statistics. Many are preventable, particularly lung cancers, which are overwhelmingly caused by smoking. But the number of cancers is expected to increase drastically over the next three decades as the U.S. population ages.

"We can't afford to tolerate this level of human suffering," said Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for research on the structure of chromosomes.

A committee of 12 lawmakers is trying to come up with $1.5 trillion in additional debt savings by Thanksgiving. Congress is supposed to vote on the savings by Dec. 23. Those efforts could include deeper cuts to discretionary programs, including those at the NIH and NCI.

Neither the House nor the Senate has yet approved funding levels for those agencies for the 2012 Fiscal Year.

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