The statistics are getting personal: When breast cancer strikes one in 10 American women, virtually everyone knows someone who has been affected by the disease. Breast cancer survival rates are rising, but so is the number of cases. Why this epidemic? Scientists aren't sure, and at current funding levels for research many more thousands of people will die before they can offer answers.
Yet a number of factors are converging to call more attention to the breast cancer epidemic. Increasing numbers of well-known women -- from Nancy Reagan to Gloria Steinem -- are speaking out about their own experience with the disease. Increasingly, women's groups across the political spectrum are taking up issues related to breast cancer.
Women have some lessons to learn from the AIDS lobby. AIDS, which killed more than 23,000 Americans last year, had a federal 1990 research budget of $1.1 billion. Meanwhile, federal funding for breast cancer was just $77 million -- even though more than 43,000 Americans died of the disease. The point is not that AIDS research should be cut; after all, it is a contagious disease with the potential to claim hundreds of thousands of lives. Rather, as Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, says, the important question is, if we can do it for AIDS, why can't we do it for women?