High Mortality Cancer Bill Approved by Congress

A new bill was recently signed into law addressing the need for research development for high mortality cancers. Mesothelioma attorneys commend Congress for passing the High Mortality Cancer Bill, which gives priority status to pancreatic and lung cancer research, and provides much-needed hope for its victims.

This bill is the first of its kind, recognizing the immense need for comprehensive disease research in the United States and acknowledging lung and pancreatic cancer as a major public health priority. In 2012 alone, over 37,000 American lives were lost to pancreatic cancer and over 160,000 to lung cancer. This high mortality rate is due, in no small part, to the lack of standardized early detection methods and treatment regimens. The five year survival rate for lung cancer is 15%; for pancreatic cancer, the number drops to 5%.

The bill was signed by President Obama just hours before the 112th Congress closed, and was integrated into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The plan of action requires the National Cancer Institute to address cancers with survival rates of less than 50% and develop specific scientific frameworks for research. As previously stated, priority status is given to pancreatic and lung cancers. The framework must be completed and sent to Congress within 18 months.

The original legislative efforts for this bill began in 2006, pioneered by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the Lung Cancer Alliance, and sponsored by then-senators Hilary Rodham Clinton, Mike DeWine, and Chuck Hagel. These efforts enabled Senate to pass a resolution naming lung cancer an urgent public health priority. In 2010, bipartisan resolutions were passed unanimously in Congress and legislation was introduced to begin drafting a comprehensive mode of action.

The inordinate prevalence of lung cancer in the United States is attributed to a number of factors, including smoking tobacco, family history of lung cancer, and exposure to asbestos or radon gas. Mesothelioma, for example, which affects the pleural lining of the lungs, is caused directly by exposure to asbestos. This known human carcinogen was inhaled most often by workers in the automotive, construction, and shipyard industries, and although its mining and production ceased in the U.S. in 2003, thousands of products containing asbestos still exist in the market today.

Mesothelioma, like other lung cancers, is evasive – about 85% of lung cancers are not diagnosed until the latest stages. By this point in the disease’s development, curative surgeries and chemical treatments are significantly less effective, if they are even possible. The median life expectancy for a mesothelioma victim is, unfortunately, just under one year.

Prior to this bill, the United States federal government invested a surprisingly low amount of money into high mortality cancer research. The National Cancer Act of 1971, while bringing the issue of cancer to public consciousness, did not ultimately fulfill its promise of finding cures and lowering mortality rates. In most clinical studies today, new treatments for metastatic (widespread) cancers only prolong survival by a few months at the most, and mortality rates have remained unchanged since the 1971 legislation.

There is much optimism among the American public and medical and political officials that this new bill will make way for more strategic, scientific, and rational research investments. The bill’s primary sponsors, Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), were responsible for driving the legislation to pass. Forward-looking advocates are hoping to cut lung and pancreatic cancer mortality in half by the end of the decade. A lofty goal, but in today’s age of rapid technological developments, this mission seems attainable. A recent landmark study illuminated this possibility when it found that lung screening with a low-dose CT scan was able to detect tumors early, and reduce mortality by up to 20%.

Mesothelioma attorneys applaud the government’s recommitment to the anti-cancer effort. We hope this legislation will usher in a new era for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients throughout the country.

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