Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Funding politically correct cancers?

Dr Helen asks:
Why is it that breast cancer and other illnesses get so much more funding than the major diseases that kill both men and women such as lung cancer and heart disease?

In response to Cathy Seipp's:
I never owned up to all this here before because I didn’t want to be written off as Lung Cancer Girl. But I have some things to say on the subject, and maybe the time has come to say them, although no way is this ever going to become a cancer blog. For one thing, I’m beginning to feel a responsibility to point out that lung cancer, which kills more people annually (about 163,000) than the next four most common cancers (colon, breast, pancreatic and prostate) combined, is terribly underfunded compared to other diseases: $950 in research money per lung cancer death, compared to $8800 for breast cancer and $34,000 for AIDS.

That’s because the vast majority of lung cancer (about 85%) is still caused by smoking, even though the rate for lifelong nonsmoking women like me (and Christopher Reeve’s widow) has been going up for some mysterious reason, and the general attitude is that smokers deserve whatever they get.

But half of all lung cancer patients have been nonsmokers by the time of diagnosis, sometimes for decades, like Warren Zevon. If they deserve to get sick, then I suppose so do people who are overweight or don’t exercise or who have promiscuous sex with strangers, all of which are contributing factors for various illnesses that get much more sympathy in the form of research dollars. Maybe the amount of attention we pay to a disease should have less to do with how many celebrities and magazine editors and junk bond kings carry its banner, and more with how many people actually die of it.

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