WASHINGTON--Friends of Cancer Research, a coalition of major cancer organizations, was organized last year to mark the 25th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, signed into law on December 23, 1971.
WASHINGTON--Friends of Cancer Research, a coalition of major cancerorganizations, was organized last year to mark the 25th anniversary ofthe National Cancer Act, signed into law on December 23, 1971.
The group, supported by $500,000 in private funds, seeks to increaseawareness about the importance of cancer research among the public, themedia, and legislators and policy makers--local, state, and federal.
Ellen V. Sigal, PhD, a historian, chairs the group. Dr. Sigal becameinvolved in cancer issues after the death of her sister from the disease.She serves on the National Cancer Advisory Board, chairs the board of overseersat the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center, and is a member of the GeorgeWashington University Cancer Center board.
She discussed the goals and activities of Friends of Cancer Researchin an interview with Patrick Young, Oncology New International's WashingtonBureau Chief. This is the first in a series of interviews with key individualsin Washington who deal with cancer policy.
ONI: How and why did Friends of Cancer Research begin?
DR. SIGAL: We decided that the 25th anniversary of the NationalCancer Act would be an opportunity for the cancer community, for the veryfirst time, to really deal with one issue--cancer research. Even if weapplied everything we know today, we still would not cure cancer. So themost important mission we could agree on was cancer research. We wantedto inform the public about what has been accomplished and where we needto go.
ONI: Why is this so important?
DR. SIGAL: Because a lot of misconceptions remain. Twenty-fiveyears ago, we talked about curing cancer; we talked about cancer as onedisease. We didn't know its complexity. We now know that we have hundreds,maybe thousands, of different kinds of cancers.
That's important, and we felt the public needed to understand what hasbeen accomplished through cancer research--that there have been gains,that mortality has declined, but that a lot more work remains.
ONI: What response have you gotten from the oncology community?
DR. SIGAL: An enormously good response. For the first time, wehave clinicians, researchers, survivors, the entire cancer community workingand speaking with one voice.
Often it has been a disjointed effort. There are those who advocatefor breast cancer, or prostate cancer, or for more DR. SIGAL: An enormouslygood response. For the first time, we have clinicians, researchers, survivors,the entire cancer community working and speaking with one voice.
Often it has been a disjointed effort. There are those who advocatefor breast cancer, or prostate cancer, or for more money on smoking prevention.Here we are all talking about the same thing.
ONI:The group plans to disband after only one year. Why thiscut-off date?
DR. SIGAL: The concept was that we would do this public educationon the importance of cancer research and then we would reevaluate. We didn'tthink it would be necessary to have yet another permanent group. So wesaid: Let's deal with this mission on a time frame that we can all agreewith and then we can decide what to do next. We are about halfway throughour year.
ONI: Can you achieve your goals within one year's time?
DR. SIGAL: I think we have made great progress, using three differentvehicles--events at cancer centers to educate policy makers, events inthe community to educate the public, and educational efforts in the entertainmentindustry to encourage greater cancer advocacy.
Importantly, we have not stayed in Washington. We have gone all overthe country. We have held events at numerous center centers in conjunctionwith local politicians: in New Jersey with Gov. Christine Todd Whitman(R); in Chicago with Rep. John Porter (R); in Tampa with Sen. Connie Mack(R) and Reps. Michael Bilirakis (R), Dan Miller (R), and C.W. "Bill"Young (R); in Philadelphia with Sen. Arlen Specter (R); and in New YorkCity with Rep. Nita Lowey (D).
Second, we have informed their constituencies and members of the communityabout what has been accomplished in cancer research. We informed them notthrough clinical or scientific talks, but through survivors, through peoplewho have benefited from cancer research, and through speakers from thecancer community. Richard Klausner, MD, the NCI director, for example,has talked about the benefits of cancer research. We get a lot accomplishedin that forum.
Finally, we are working with the entertainment industry because we thinkHollywood can make an enormous difference. They can inform the public aboutcancer research through story lines in movies and TV programs and throughcelebrity spokespeople going on TV programs--Oprah, Nightline, Larry King.Celebrities can be advocates, spreading the message of hope and the importanceof cancer research.
ONI: Do you see your efforts as having lasting effects?
DR. SIGAL: Like everything else, it needs to be reinforced. Youcan't have a wonderful public education forum that excites everyone andthen go away. You have to reinforce the message. We are working with theentire cancer community, as well as Hollywood, to carry on the message.
ONI:What is the bottom line?
DR. SIGAL: The important issue is that the cancer community hasto work together. We have to bring this message to the public through advocacy,communication and education. People can only support what they understand.It is essential for the cancer community to inform the people and not justmembers of Congress and the White House.