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Utah cancer research was winner in funding

Published: Friday, March 30 2007 10:20 a.m. MDT

The 2007 Utah Legislature injected an infusion of cash into cancer research and infrastructure but did not increase funding for cancer screening or require health insurance to cover breast cancer screening for women at higher risk of the disease.

Lawmakers gave the Huntsman Cancer Institute, a state-owned research center at the University of Utah that was founded by the family of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., $10 million in one-time money and $4 million in ongoing funding.

That money is vital for research, infrastructure, staff retention and recruitment, said Janet Bingham, president of the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. And it comes at a time when the federal government has, for the first time in 30 years, reduced funding for cancer research. HCI is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the Intermountain West.

Bingham said one-half of men and one-third of women will experience cancer in their lifetime. HCI sees an average of 29 newly diagnosed cancer patients each day. To "stem and ultimately stop the human suffering and deaths," cancer must be studied at the cellular, molecular and genetics levels so that better treatments can be developed, along with effective prevention and education programs.

Advocates who pushed for more funding in cancer patient care are disappointed but had no comment when asked if they were political victims, given that a GOP-dominated Legislature funded an institute tied to the Republican governor's family and did not fund cancer-screening requests from Democratic lawmakers.

The American Cancer Society was among those that lobbied hard for expanded early detection and prevention of breast cancer and cervical cancer, to no avail. While they were happy about cancer research funding for HCI, cancer patient care was largely ignored, said Michael Siler, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society.

"That was a disappointment, but this is really the first time we've sought additional funding for that, and we know there has to be kind of an educational component there," said Siler. "We feel that we laid the groundwork and provided the background (legislators) need to do it next year. We are going to attempt to do it next year."

The Utah Department of Health asked for an additional $750,000 for breast and cervical cancer early detection to provide screening to an additional 2,354 women, said Kalynn Filion, Cancer Control Program specialist, but didn't get it. The department estimated 60,000 women are eligible for the program, which offers free cancer screening to uninsured, underinsured and low-income women ages 40-49 but can serve only 1,400.

HB358, sponsored by Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, originally asked for $1 million so the health department could create a cervical cancer immunization program and education campaign. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine to prevent infection that causes cervical cancer.

Lawmakers passed an amended version, without any funding, which directs the health department to create an education campaign about the causes and risks of cervical cancer and its prevention, including information about "abstinence before and fidelity after marriage as the best prevention" of spread of human papillomavirus, the virus responsible for the disease. The health department will have to educate the public within existing budgets.

"Basically, we are where we were. We do receive federal funding to do breast and cervical screening, but it's limited," said Filion, adding that women who don't have resources are less likely to be screened and, when cancer is found, it's at a more advanced stage, where it's more costly and harder to treat.

HB191, sponsored by Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, would have required health insurers to cover the cost of mammograms for women over age 40 and those with a previous personal or family history of breast cancer. The bill failed.

The American Cancer Society says that, detected and treated early, 91 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive five years later.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com

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