Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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Editorial: The fight against breast cancer

Breast cancer is a magnet for research funding. But the money behind this popular cause has been attracting criticism. Complaints include breast cancer research taking more than its fair share of available research dollars and how this funding is divided up among proposed breast cancer research projects.

While we support debate and think the spending of billions of research dollars — much of it supplied by taxpayers — should be scrutinized, criticism of breast cancer research funding should not be used to detract from the money going to end a scourge that affects millions of women as well as thousands of men.

Based on incidence rates, an estimated one of every eight women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The Valley can boast many ongoing breast cancer research programs. Last week, the Gazette reported on research being done at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to better understand how cancer cells travel through the body and what drives them to relocate to other areas.

This research is funded by a $590,000 National Science Foundation grant. In Springfield, Baystate Medical Center operates the Comprehensive Breast Center and a joint venture with UMass, the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, both of which conduct breast cancer research.

There is no cumulative accounting of how much money is spent on breast cancer research in the U.S. But in 2012, it is estimated that the National Institutes of Health alone will allocate $712 million to examine the disease. And for the last five years, breast cancer has ranked among the 50 diseases receiving the most research grant funding from the NIH, which has 233 disease/research funding categories. Clinical research, genetics, cancer and disease prevention were among the top three grant winners from 2008 to 2012.

Questions raised by the Fair Allocations in Research Foundations, a California advocacy group, are promoting the idea that the top priority in awarding government funding for medical research should be the mortality rate of the disease.

The more deaths, the more dollars. Therefore, more deadly maladies such as cardiovascular disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease should get more funding and breast cancer should get less, according to the group’s website.

And there are people with breast cancer who are also critical of how the research is funded. Last year, C.J. Corneliussen-James, president of METAvivor Research and Support, Inc., a fundraising group for metastasized breast cancer research and support, began raising questions about why breast cancer research dollars are directed to prevention and early detection, and not so much focused on treating people afflicted by the disease.

In 2007, the most recent year for which full information in available, cancer was the second leading cause of death for U.S. women. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer contracted by women, though it is only the second most deadly (lung cancer claims the most lives among female cancer victims), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Someone can always be found who will say how a dollar could be better spent. Because it is anticipated that more than 6 percent of the U.S. population will some day be diagnosed with breast cancer, funding for research to detect and cure this disease should not wane.

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