General cancer research has made great strides over the last few years. Over this past year, we have seen the first major advance in twenty years in kidney cancer; new treatment options for breast cancer, targeted therapies for head and neck cancers as well
as a novel gene profiling test that can predict which patients with small non-small cell lung cancer are most likely to be cured or to progress on to a recurrence.

All of these areas of progress have come from basic scientific research, which has been support by the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Defense (DOD). These programs, NIH, NCI and the DOD all get their funding from the federal government, from our tax dollars. It strikes me that these particular investments of our money have been among the best investments we have made. We are saving lives and reducing suffering, what better way is there to spend our money.

From 1998 to 2003, NIH saw a doubling of its budget, providing along with other research, a significant increase in funding for cancer research. Since 2003, funding for the NIH has failed to keep pace with the rate of medical inflation, causing a decrease in real dollars that are available to save lives and reduce suffering. Then in 2006 the actual dollar budget was cut, this was the first time the NIH budget was cut in over 35 years!

According to John Niederhuber, NCI Director, “NCI’s budget, at 4.8 billion, has been held essentially flat since 2004 and is falling behind the rate of inflation in biomedical research. This leaves NCI with 12% less purchasing power than it had just four years ago.”

For Fiscal Year 2008, the president’s budget proposal included an additional cut of $279 million (almost an additional 1% cut) for the NIH and a $16 million cut (.33%) for NCI. Remember that these cuts are actually larger as there continues to be a significant increase in the medical inflation rate.

Both the House and the Senate have proposals on the table that would actually increase the NIH and the NCI budgets, but neither proposal is adequate. The House bill includes an increase of $545 million <1.9%> for the NIH and $72 million <1.5%> for NCI – the Senate bill increases the NIH by $800 million <2.8%> and the NCI by $112 million, 2.3%>. The American Cancer Society has recommended that an across the board increase of at least 6.7%.

We cannot just sit idly by the side and let this continue. There still is time to reverse this deadly trend, if not for ourselves, but then for our children. Contact your member of Congress and your two Senators and demand that they increase the funding for NIH, NCI and the DOD Directed Research Program in fiscal Year 2008. You can send e-mails by looking under the Blog Roll for the web page entitled “Contacting Your Congressional Representative” or by clicking on the link.

Joel T. Nowak MA, MSW