Breast Cancer Trumps All
Other Cancers For Funding
People suffering from a range of cancers are
getting second-class treatment because the breast cancer lobby has swallowed up
the vast majority of available expertise and funding.
Cancer experts have warned that the breast
cancer lobby is now so powerful it is distorting research spending, treatment
and facilities at the expense of those suffering from other cancers.
Lung cancer kills almost three times as many
people each year as breast cancer, which also kills fewer people than colon
cancer. However, there are more than 25 charities dedicated to breast cancer,
compared with five for prostate, three for colon and just one for lung cancer.
The breast cancer charities have succeeded in
raising millions of pounds and attracting patronage from Ministers, MPs and
royalty, as well as from celebrities such as pop star Geri Halliwell.
'Breast cancer research has moved forward much
faster than the others because of the breast cancer lobby, which is very
powerful,' said Ian Gibson MP, chairman of the House of Commons' all-party group
'The treatment has been skewed by the
lobbying, there is no doubt about that. Breast cancer sufferers get better
treatment in terms of bed spaces, facilities and doctors and nurses.'
Britain has 3,000 specialist breast cancer
nurses, but just 200 for lung cancer, 300 for bowel cancer and only one for
prostate cancer. Waiting times between referral and diagnosis are just two weeks
for breast cancer - but three months for prostate cancer.
The first drug authorised by the new National
Institute of Clinical Excellence was the breast cancer drug taxane. There are
screening programmes for both breast cancer and cervical cancer, but not for the
In 1996, the Government spent £5 million on breast
cancer research and just £76,000 on prostate cancer.
In 1996, the Government spent £5 million on
breast cancer research and just £76,000 on prostate cancer. Likewise, last
year, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund spent £8m on breast cancer research,
compared with £5.5m for colon cancer, even though it kills more people.
'Other cancers lost out in terms of research
money,' said Gibson. 'Nearly all the money from research comes from charities,
and they were raising money for breast cancer. That's why lung cancer research
got stuck, because no money was raised for it.'
Professor Jonathan Waxman of the Prostate
Cancer Charity said the Government had been easily swayed by the breast cancer
lobby. 'The Government has responded to the media attention and the huge
emotional pull of breast cancer,' he said.
A spokesman for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer
Foundation, Britain's only lung cancer charity, complained: 'It's been skewed
totally. Breast cancer is so well addressed, [while lung cancer] doesn't attract
the level of funding you'd expect for the number one cancer killer.'
Breast cancer has become far more treatable in
recent years. The chances of surviving for five years after diagnosis rose from
54 per cent in 1975 to 74 per cent in 1995. In contrast, lung cancer has seen no
improvement in survival rates, with 80 per cent of victims dying within a year.
'In comparison to breast cancer, we are the
poor relative - the money going into lung cancer is a small fraction of that
going into breast cancer,' said Professor John Field, director of research at
the Roy Castle International Centre for Lung Cancer Research.
Colon cancer - the second biggest cancer
killer - is curable in 90 per cent of cases if caught early, but because it is
largely ignored and there is no screening programme, only 39 per cent of
sufferers survive more than five years.
Sarah Cruickshank of Colon Cancer Concern said
it has been struggling to get attention and raise funds. 'People are too
embarrassed to talk about bottoms and rectums. But breasts are visible,
attractive, and you can dress up models and market it,' she said. In a desperate
bid for attention, the charity put out a poster of a bottom, but made it look
like a cleavage.
Leslie Walker, head of information at the
Cancer Research Campaign, said: 'The explosion of research into breast cancer
comes down to one thing - breast screening. If you screen, you detect women with
breast cancer and you get all the expertise and facilities built up around
In contrast, there are very limited facilities
for other cancers. And because they are detected so late there is little chance
of saving people and few survivors to treat.
'The problem we have is that we can fund only
15 projects. Do we just go with the best ones, or do we positively discriminate
against breast cancer research?' said Walker.