The Plank

Do Breasts Starve The Baby?

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Appearing Monday on the Ellen DeGeneres show, Hillary Clinton made another
bold campaign promise: to
cure breast cancer within a decade
. If elected, she pledged a $300 million
annual commitment to research into the disease, which killed some 40,000 women
last year and is said to afflict 240,000 individuals annually.

Breast cancer research is certainly a worthy cause--not least because the
hundreds of thousands of women who are stricken with it represent hundreds of
thousands of families for whom the female center is vital. But it has been a
watershed set of decades for breast cancer researchers, who find the funding
game lucrative indeed. Aside from the robust support of federal institutes like
the NIH, Americans have privately dropped millions of dollars into campaigns
similar to Clinton's,
that promise to do right by our cousins, aunts, and sisters. And the orgy of
pink
that marks October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month--handbags, teabags,
bracelets and mugs--keeps ill women in our minds year-round.

As a result, we are very, very good at handling the threat of breast cancer.
The high incidence of breast cancer (compared with, say pancreatic cancer)
notwithstanding, past large-scale investments in the disease have given most
oncologists a clear, flexible battle plan when it comes to this particular cancer.
I say this from personal experience watching my mother work with countless terrified and sick patients. Over the last several years, clinical
research (2375 ongoing studies) has shown that a strategic combination of medication, radiation and
surgery can get a hold on all but the most aggressive late-stage forms of
breast cancer. Counseling for genetic and behavioral risk factors has made
diagnosis and treatment even more precise.

I point this out not to suggest that breast cancer funding is starving the
baby. If it were, it wouldn't be doing so alone. Prostate and colon cancers,
for some, also sap great amounts of federal and private giving. But the lack of
funding for other, less media-friendly (and I hate to turn a life-threatening
illness into a PR machine) diseases like multiple
myeloma
or osteosarcoma--not to speak of sickle-cell disease or asthma, or anything--make such financial favoritism seem against the interest of general scientific knowledge.

Clinton's
breast money will be funneled toward the NIH, the National
Cancer Institute, and the Medical Research Program run
by the Defense Department. Frankly, (and back to the campaign) I'd love to know
Elizabeth Edwards' response to this initiative and the general debate
on resource allocation
in medical research. Perhaps we'll see her blogging about it from the Center
for American Progress, which she has just
joined
as a senior fellow.

--Dayo Olopade

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