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The State that makes cigarettes may increase funding!!!!YEAH


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N.C. could step up lung cancer research

CHAPEL HILL - My family has been acutely aware of cancer since my wife was diagnosed with non-small-cell adenocarcinoma of the lung in fall 2000. She died after fighting the disease for 5 years 9 months and 23 days.

There is no cure for advanced lung cancer. The progress of the cancer may be interrupted occasionally, but the standard five-year survival rate is between 10 percent and 15 percent. The comprehensive numbers are somewhat less than that, as my wife would count as a survivor when she did not outlive the disease.

Recent statistics show that 160,000 people in the United States die each year from lung cancer, while 52,000 people die from colorectal cancer. Breast cancer causes 41,000 deaths annually, and prostate cancer 27,000. The American Lung Association reports that, from 1992 until 2004, $1.6 billion was spent on breast cancer research, while lung cancer research funding totaled $33 million during the same period.

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THIS REVEALS A PERVERSE SITUATION: The disease that is the leading cause of cancer deaths annually has only 2 percent of the funding level of breast cancer research. Our priorities are obviously reversed on this subject.

Some people assume that lung cancer victims must have smoked tobacco and that the disease is a consequence of their actions. This stigma is not warranted. My wife never used tobacco. She is part of a growing group, including many women, who never used tobacco yet still contracted lung cancer. And nobody, tobacco user or not, deserves to get lung cancer.

One major reason for the lethal nature of lung cancer is that it is often not discovered until the condition is well advanced and perhaps less responsive to treatment. Traditional and orthodox medical practice has not included regular testing or screening of patients for lung cancer without any signs or symptoms of the disease.

Researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill have published an article in The Journal of Clinical Oncology that proposes genetic testing for propensities to develop lung cancer and potential treatments for the disease. While these procedures are still in the developmental stage, they are a good sign of progress.

We use regular Pap tests to detect cervical cancer and colonoscopy exams for early detection of colon cancer. Only 16 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed before their disease has spread to other parts of their bodies, such as lymph nodes, compared with more than 50 percent of breast cancer patients and 90 percent of prostate cancer patients. Effective and accurate screening tests to detect lung cancer at an early stage would be real progress in this field.

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SEVERAL YEARS AGO, TOBACCO COMPANIES ENTERED INTO A SETTLEMENT with state attorneys general that provided payments to states involving billions of dollars, in return for a waiver of the right to further litigation against the companies. Many public health professionals assumed that part or all of this money would be used for health care, but that is not the case. There are some specific provisions in the agreement involving health promotion and other activities, but most of the money can be used at the discretion of the states.

In North Carolina, half the settlement money goes to the Golden LEAF fund for grants to assist areas affected by reduced tobacco production, a quarter goes to the Tobacco Trust Fund to help farmers and tobacco workers and a quarter goes to the Health and Wellness Trust Fund. There are no specific provisions to fund research to find a cure for lung cancer.

We need to reset our priorities on funding lung cancer research without delay. The development of a screening test that would detect lung cancer at an early and treatable stage should be a primary priority. The next step would be to find a cure for this lethal disease.

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David Work, retired executive director of the N.C. Board of Pharmacy, is a member of the board of directors of the N.C. Chapter of the National Lung Cancer Partnership.

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