The Color of Pink

October is national breast cancer awareness month, the “pink” campaign.

I’m no expert, so, why am I writing about cancer? Here is why: 1. One of my daughters was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2011, is currently without cancer, but the horrendous residual impact of potent and poisonous chemotherapy has left her with debilitating neuropathy; 2. My sister was breast cancer diagnosed a few years ago, and is now in remission; 3. A sister-in-law was taken by breast cancer nearly five years ago; 4. My mother-in-law succumbed to cancer of the cervix some years ago. Therefore, I have more than a passing interest and experience. There are no words to describe the pain caused by watching a loved one succumb to a disease of any kind.

There is much more to cancer research, treatment and survival than meets the eye. Finding precise information through simple searches on-line yields information on various individually funded government and private foundation efforts, but little overall data. In my view, there are so many efforts devoted to cancer, is the reason there is no simple data sheet providing a summary of overall funding in the United States. Having said that, survival rates in recent years have increased dramatically due to research dollars contributed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, affecting as much as 7.9 percent of the population. As cancer remains an incurable disease, government funding set aside specifically for cancer research remains an ongoing priority on a national level.For every cancer death, the CDC says, the most federal research dollars–listed in millions– were spent on cancer of the cervix ($18,870), breast ($14,095), and on Hodgkin lymphoma ($12,791). The least funded were cancers of the stomach ($1,168), lung ($1,553), and esophagus ($1,542). Cancer of the male prostate is becoming less invisible on the national level. One reason for the disparity – some advocacy groups, like those for breast cancer, are more adept at raising awareness. An easily discernible talent given this month, and with awareness comes cash. Frankly, the American Cancer Society is the best place to find precise information, although their site (http://www.cancer.org/) is a bit difficult to navigate.

In a November 2011 article for Forbes Magazine, Michael W. Long, scientist, entrepreneur, wrote this: …”Cancers are a multitude of individual diseases, not just a disease. Making it more complicated is the fact that affected individuals with the same cancer (e.g. adenocarcinoma of the colon; small cell cancer of the lung, etc) respond differently to standard therapies. On a molecular basis this means that each cancer, in each individual, is different. Thus, we won’t have a “Magic Bullet” for cancer; we’ll have a series of sophisticated treatments, perhaps just for that individual, that was worked out by “pouring” money into research.” It is difficult for most folks to come to grips with the fact most research, of any kind, usually fails, and that is certainly true because of the individual responses to cancer drugs.Take a close look at the following chart illustrating the most prevalent cancer types (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/commoncancers):

Cancer Type Estimated New Cases Estimated Deaths
Bladder 73,510 14,880
Breast (Female – Male) 226,870 – 2,190 39,510 – 410
Colon and Rectal (Combined) 143,460 51,690
Endometrial 47,130 8,010
Kidney (Renal Cell) Cancer 59,588 12,484
Leukemia (All Types) 47,150 23,540
Lung (Including Bronchus) 226,160 160,340
Melanoma 76,250 9,180
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma 70,130 18,940
Pancreatic 43,920 37,390
Prostate 241,740 28,170
Thyroid 56,460 1,780

The breast cancer campaign for funds is, in some ways, its own worst enemy, causing bitterness in the ranks among survivors of those taken by other cancers. Too, executives of many non-profit organizations, like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, for example, one of the largest and most visible in behalf of breast cancer research, receive high salaries from more than 11% of its total budget, according to IRS filings.

In my personal experience, survivors have the most critical daily need. “If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the drugs may,” is an oft quoted phrase I’ve heard frequently. Spending upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 each for multiple infusions over a year or so is expensive. Many non-insured “survivors”, mostly women, overcome cancer only to be faced with the reality treatment has cost them everything they have–home, savings, everything, lack of money to clothe their children, and more. If they are ambulatory, without side effects of chemotherapy, they may find employment, but many are stricken with residual ailments resulting from poisonous drugs. It is these folks, I worry, are the forgotten patients. Their cancer is cured, so their disease is no longer relevant, especially to public welfare agencies. True, there is some assistance available, but it is short term, underfunded, and falls on the lower end of charitably giving. Headlines, marches, and walks produce dollars for research more readily than for survivors.