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Cancer research funding should top '07 agenda

Congress has the ability to do great things with the power entrusted to it by Americans, yet during my first term in the House of Representatives, I became increasingly frustrated with the amount of time and focus spent on issues that divide rather than unite us as a country.

The election of a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives for the first time in a decade offers an opportunity to demonstrate a new direction in federal policy making -- one that focuses on substantial issues that deeply impact and change the lives of Americans. The 110th Congress should lead the way with the objective of eradicating cancer death and suffering in this decade by restoring deep cuts to federal cancer research and prevention programs.

The president's $2.7 trillion budget for 2007 reduced funding for virtually every cancer research and prevention program totaling $40 million this year, $70 million last year and $250 million over the past five years. These cuts have slowed existing research and delayed the start of promising new research.

Less than 10 percent of cancer deaths today are caused by the primary tumor. It is when cancer metastasizes that it becomes deadly. Early detection saves lives and money, an estimated $300 billion last year alone in health care costs and lost productivity.

Cancer researchers are making impressive progress toward unraveling cancer's dark mysteries and using this knowledge to prevent cancer from becoming life threatening. Today's research will produce tomorrow's treatments and cures.

Thirty years ago, fewer than 50 percent of those with cancer lived five years beyond their diagnosis date. The survival rate today is 65 percent for adults and 80 percent for children. In America more people are living with cancer than dying from it. Today we have 10 million cancer survivors; tomorrow we could have more.

Despite this impressive progress, big challenges remain. Men today have a 1 in 2 likelihood of developing invasive cancer in their lifetime; women have a 1 in 3 chance. Last year more than 1 million new cancer cases were diagnosed and 500,000 people died from cancer.

Funding cancer research not only saves lives and money, it is also good for the Buffalo Niagara economy. Buffalo's Roswell Park Cancer Institute was the nation's first comprehensive cancer center and is one of only 61 NCI centers in the nation.

Roswell pioneered studies that gave us chemotherapy, the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test and research linking smoking and lung cancer. With more than 2,700 employees, Roswell Park is a major employer and contributor to the regional economy, drawing patients and researchers to Buffalo from throughout the world.

NCI and the American Cancer Society set an ambitious goal of eliminating all human suffering and death from cancer by the year 2015. This should be a fully funded national imperative; it should be America's goal.

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