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Congress should increase cancer research funding

There are more than 15 million cancer survivors in America today and I am grateful to be one of them. If you receive proper diagnosis and treatment, cancer may not have to be a death sentence.

Lifesaving cancer treatments have one thing in common – they begin with basic research often funded or conducted by the National Institute of Health and the National Cancer Institute. These federal agencies sustain a pipeline of cancer discoveries in this country.

I believe that medical research is the answer to solving this complicated, devastating disease. I lost both my father and my brother to cancer but fortunately, I am a survivor. Perhaps additional cancer research and treatment could have saved them also.

We are fortunate to have an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center right here in New Mexico. It recently received designation and ranking as one of the top 3 percent of cancer treatment and research centers in the entire nation.

Only 45 of the nation’s top 1,500 cancer programs hold this distinguished title.

Because we are a rural state with many underserved residents, we are indeed blessed to have this NCI-designated center in New Mexico. The center would not be able to help our needy population without the continued funding from NIH and NCI.

Right now, Congress is on the verge of giving a much-needed funding boost to lifesaving cancer research taking place at sites such as our University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center and throughout the nation. As a two-time breast cancer survivor and volunteer with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, I am one of many New Mexicans calling on Congress to vote to increase NIH funding. This is a crucial step in shoring up future progress against a disease that still kills more than 3,600 New Mexicans every year.

Over the past decade, stalled funding and rising research costs have eroded the NIH budget and have jeopardized medical breakthroughs. Federal funding for medical research has dropped more than 24 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2003, forcing cancer centers to halt promising clinical trials and drying up the grant pool relied upon by researchers.

This atrophy has a tangible impact here in New Mexico. More than 80 percent of NIH’s budget is dedicated to extramural research. This research, done in all 50 states, is critical to progress against cancer and drives local economic growth.

According to NIH, in 2014 nearly $30 billion funded almost 50,000 research grants to more than 300,000 researchers at over 2,500 universities, medical schools and other research institutions in every state.

In New Mexico, NIH awarded $96 million in grants and contracts during fiscal year 2014. This money directly supported close to 2,000 jobs in the state and created $226 million in new economic activity for New Mexico.

Past federal investments have resulted in ground-breaking discoveries that have produced cutting-edge innovation in areas such as genetics, immunotherapy and personalized medicine, yielding long-term economic and health benefits. This research offers hope to the millions of people who face cancer through better treatment, more opportunities to prevent and detect the disease and for improved quality of life for those already diagnosed.

At a time when this nation is divided on so many issues, here is a moment for lawmakers to stand together and make a difference in something that affects almost every person in this country.

Cancer strikes one in two men and one in three women in their lifetimes. However, due to innovative cancer treatments and therapies, millions of cancer survivors are living – and thriving – in America today.

Congress should take this rare opportunity to increase cancer research funding and save even more lives.

Kathleen McVicker is a former public school music teacher who had a music education program on KNME-TV during the 1960s and ’70s.

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