Jump to content

A new strategy to attract funding for lung cancer

Recommended Posts


A new strategy to attract funding for lung cancer

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

By Jeanne Whalen, The Wall Street Journal

Lung cancer is one of the deadliest and most-dreaded cancers. Ironically, that is part of the reason that it faces formidable obstacles in the intense competition for research dollars.

Diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and increasingly even AIDS have legions of survivors who are able to help mount the charge toward a cure. Lung cancer's high mortality rate means there is only a small pool of survivors to lead the fight.

In addition, lung cancer suffers from its link to smoking. Many people feel little sympathy for patients, believing they brought the disease on themselves.

Now, some lung-cancer organizations are pushing a new strategy to raise awareness and research money by showing the disease's more sympathetic face: those patients who have never smoked.

Funding for research on lung-cancer treatments is significantly out of proportion to its deadliness. Lung cancer kills about 160,000 Americans a year, about four times as many people as breast cancer. About 85 percent of lung-cancer patients die within five years of developing the disease, compared with only 12 percent of breast-cancer patients. But, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance, a new Washington lobbying group, the U.S. government is budgeted to spend nearly $1 billion this year to research treatments for breast cancer. Lung-cancer researchers are slated to get only $300 million.

Lung cancer is just one of a host of cancers and other illnesses that are fighting big odds in attracting attention and funding. Pancreatic cancer, for example, has the highest fatality rate of any cancer -- the average life expectancy after being diagnosed is just three to six months -- leaving few survivors to take on the task of advocacy. Pancreatic-cancer organizations say they try to overcome their lack of foot soldiers by enlisting family members of patients as advocates. Jimmy Carter, who lost four family members to the disease, and the actor Matthew Modine, who lost his father, have both helped raise awareness through public-service campaigns.

As for lung cancer, patient advocates are hoping this new focus on patients who have never smoked will help boost awareness. Last month, the Lung Care Alliance ran an ad in national newspapers that read: "This lung cancer patient can't stop smoking. Because she never started." The ad featured the photo of Karen Parles, a 45-year-old mother of two who has never smoked but still developed lung cancer, possibly through a genetic quirk. Patients who have never smoked account for 10 percent to 15 percent of lung-cancer cases. The Lung Cancer Alliance's aim is to push Congress and health agencies to boost funding for treatments and early detection.

For years, the main focus in the lung-cancer fight has been on prevention through antismoking campaigns, and many cancer experts believe prevention still is by far the best way to wipe out the disease. Getting the government and potential donors to think beyond prevention to treatment will be a tough job, the Lung Cancer Alliance and other advocates acknowledge.

The new emphasis on nonsmokers is spurring controversy within the lung-cancer community. Some observers fear this strategy risks dividing lung cancer into "good" and "bad" patients, and further stigmatizing the many lung-cancer sufferers who are smokers.

Elizabeth Whelan, head of the American Council on Science and Health, a nonprofit group that aims to eradicate smoking, says she was "upset" by the ad. "I think we should give legitimate attention to the disease whether people smoke or don't smoke," she says.

The Lung Cancer Alliance says it aims to challenge people's negative stereotypes of lung cancer -- not make smokers look worse. The group is planning more ads and a tour of lung-cancer hospitals across the U.S., where it will arrange for doctors to speak about the latest treatment options.

While government funding for lung-cancer research may be sparse, pharmaceutical companies have been more active. They see a huge potential market for their drugs. Lung cancer historically has been treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. A new kind of treatment became available last year when the Food and Drug Administration approved Tarceva, a drug from OSI Pharmaceuticals, Genentech Inc. and Roche Holding AG that blocks a protein that spurs growth of lung-cancer cells. Other drug makers hope to bring similar drugs to market. Lung cancer in nonsmokers appears to respond particularly well to these newer therapies, reinforcing the thinking that lung cancer in never-smokers is biologically different than the disease in smokers.

John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society, says he is glad to see lung-cancer advocates raising the disease's profile and calling for more research of treatments. He adds that the most efficient way to fight the disease is still by prevention, through smoking-cessation campaigns. Recent studies have shown that prevention of lung cancer is 90 times as cost-effective as treatment, he said.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use.