September 25, 1998
Susan Dentzer reports on the March Against Cancer.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the latest effort to raise money for the fight against cancer. The reporter is Susan Dentzer of our health policy unit, a partnership with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
SUSAN DENTZER: Today, workers completed preparations for the crowds expected to pour into the nation's capital this weekend for the March on Cancer. The two-day rally is designed to raise awareness of a disease that is the nation's number 2 killer, next to heart disease. An estimated 1.2 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year. The march is shaping up as s classic demonstration of disease-related lobbying of the 1990's.
GEN. NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF: I'm General Norman Schwarzkopf and this is Chakina.
SUSAN DENTZER: Celebrities and entertainers rub elbows with high-profile cancer survivors like Gulf War hero and retired four-star general Norman Schwarzkopf. Harkening back to a device used to raise awareness of AIDS, there will even be a quilt in honor of children with cancer. Twenty-six year cancer survivor Ellen Stovall leads the coalition of cancer organizations behind the march.
ELLEN STOVALL, National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship: We want to know more about the cause, the care, and the cure of this disease. We need more information. We need better quality information. We just don't need more money for cancer research; we need to know what the priorities in cancer research are.
PRESIDENT NIXON: (1971) We are here today for the purpose of signing the Cancer Act of 1971.
SUSAN DENTZER: Since President Richard Nixon first declared war on cancer in the 1970's, annual federal spending on cancer research has grown to almost $2 ½ billion a year. It now dwarfs spending on any other disease, including AIDS, heart disease, and diabetes. Cancer groups want that amount increased even further as part of an overall doubling of the federal medical research budget. Moreover, billions of dollars are also being poured into cancer research by the private sector. For example, pharmaceutical companies have an estimated 200 cancer drugs in various stages of development. Cancer groups want patients to have broader access to clinical trials of those drugs as well. The central question raised by the march is just how much should be spent on cancer research and care, especially at the federal level, where there is no overarching strategy for setting long-term medical research priorities. In the absence of any such strategy, cancer groups are banking on the fact that employing attention getters like the quilt are one means of getting more money. The march demonstrates how disease advocacy groups go about publicizing needs and arguing for more public support. Dr. David Korn, a long-time observer of the biomedical research scene, says the pattern began in the 1980's.
DR. DAVID KORN, Association of American Medical Colleges: I believe that political - public lobbying for research funding for diseases was changed fundamentally when the AIDS epidemic hit the public consciousness, and the AIDS activists used every arrow in the political quiver to publicize the disease, the magnitude, the horror, and to demand, literally demand more public resources be devoted to trying to understand and deal with AIDS.
SUSAN DENTZER: Kathy Cales' six-year-old daughter, Tamara, had nerve cancer that is now in remission. She and another mother of a cancer survivor dreamed up the idea for the quilt.
KATHY CALES, Mother: I had never seen the AIDS quilt, except on TV, but I know the impact that the AIDS quilt had all across the nation. And we were hoping to make the same sort of impact.
SUSAN DENTZER: For all the money being spent, cancer groups argue that it's time to spend more on research into cancer's causes and treatment. As a sign that such treatments are working, they point to a recent decline in the number of people who die each year from cancer. Dr. Joseph Bailes is the incoming president of a leading cancer physicians' group.
DR. JOSEPH BAILES, American Society of Clinical Oncology: Well, this is a very exciting time in cancer medicine. In the pipeline are a whole set of new therapies, some targeted at genes, some targeted at certain enzymes or chemicals in the cell that will allow not only therapy targeted at a particular cancer but sometimes at a particular part of the cancer cell, for instance, to shut it off so that it dies.
SUSAN DENTZER: Past advances in cancer research have revolutionized treatments for patients like Tamara Cales.
KATHY CALES: She was diagnosed in 1995. They told me that if she had been diagnosed four years earlier, they would have told us, take her home, make her comfortable, give her anything she wants, and plan her funeral.
SUSAN DENTZER: Other disease advocacy groups support the cancer groups' efforts to increase the overall federal medical research budget. But they worry then, in reality, any competition for increased funding might be a zero sum game in which cancer would gain at their expense. Linda Haas is with the American Diabetes Association, an advocacy group for the estimated 16 million Americans who suffer from diabetes.
LINDA HAAS, American Diabetes Association: If you look at other diseases, they're almost quadruple what diabetes is getting. I think it is competitive, and I think whoever has the loudest voice may get the most funding.
SUSAN DENTZER: Haas and other advocates hope diabetes awareness may now get a boost from the newly-crowned Miss America, Nicole Johnson, who was diagnosed with one form of the disease when she was 18. Johnson's intention to focus on diabetes could mimic the cancer march in drawing attention to research and treatment needs.
DR. DAVID KORN: There's no question that the technique works. I think that opportunity in science could probably consume a vast amount more than we as a society are capable of giving it. And so there will always be allocation decisions, and there are going to be difficult ones. And the better the science, the more difficult those allocation decisions are.
SUSAN DENTZER: The events surrounding the march begin tonight with a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial.