WASHINGTON -- The United States proved in the Persian Gulf that it knows how to fight a war, but President Bush needs to put that same type of effort into planning and funding the war on cancer if he wants to win this fight for American health, cancer officials declared yesterday.
Federal funding for cancer research, prevention and treatment is "much too low for us to carry out the national war" on cancer, Dr. HaroldP. Freeman, recently named chairman of a presidential cancer panel, told a congressional subcommittee.
"I will bring that message to him [President Bush]" when the two meet later this year, said Dr. Freeman, past president of the American Cancer Society.
Dr. Freeman, head of surgery at Harlem (N.Y.) Hospital Center, a principal hospital in one of the poorest areas of the United States, said he was especially concerned that about 55 million Americans who are poor, uninsured or both do not have access to early diagnosis and treatment for cancer. "This is damning," he said.
Only 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer at Harlem Hospital between 1965 and 1985 were alive five years later, compared with 75 percent of white women nationally and 63 percent of black women nationally, Dr. Freeman said. The statistics show "poverty is the issue rather than race," he said.
Dr. Samuel Broder, director of the National Cancer Institute, said that NCI has "less buying power now than we did in 1980."
Both he and Dr. Freeman told members of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment that the amount spent on cancer in real dollars has not increased since President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer 20 years ago. Dr. Broder said that since 1980 "the NCI budget has decreased approximately 6 percent."
But money is not the only problem health leaders face in trying to eliminate cancer, Dr. Freeman said. A new and different organizational effort is needed, he suggested.
"The secretaries of education, housing and labor need to come together to launch a guerrilla war in the trenches where people live and die," he said. Educating Americans to help prevent cancer through proper diet, not smoking and other measures should begin in kindergarten, Dr. Freeman said.
The cancer experts appeared at a hearing called by Representative Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., to discuss progress in fighting cancer over the last 20 years.