On Wednesday, May 7, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on Capitol Hill to address “The Fight Against Cancer: Challenges, Progress and Promise.” Chairman Bill Nelson (D-Fla) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine) spoke eloquently and passionately about their desire to secure funding for cancer research to support advances in prevention, detection and treatment. Senator Nelson said that although tremendous progress has been made, we are facing a formidable opponent.

Additional members of the committee present included Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)

Witnesses included:

  • Harold E. Varmus, MD, Director, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health
  • Valerie Harper, Actress and Cancer Survivor
  • Thomas Sellers, PhD, MPH, Director, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute
  • Mary Dempsey, Assistant Director and Co-Founder, The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing
  • Chip Kennett, Advocate and Cancer Survivor

Dr. Varmus spoke at length about the extraordinary progress that has been made in cancer research, due in large part to investments in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI). He also noted that prevention is our greatest tool in the fight against cancer.

Ms. Harper spoke about her personal battle with lung cancer, discovered when she broke her wrist and scans revealed the disease. She said that “luck is not an appropriate method of screening” and spoke at length about her medical treatment as well as her holistic approach to well-being.

Dr. Sellers discussed his perspective as a cancer center director and noted that “patients are coming to cancer centers for one reason—hope.” He was deeply concerned about funding cuts, saying that adjusting for inflation, the NIH budget has gone down by 22 percent.

Ms. Dempsey revealed the reason behind her passionate advocacy on behalf of people living with cancer—she recently lost her mother to the disease after a 16-year battle. Her organization focuses on the psychosocial aspects of cancer care along with integrative medicine services.

Finally, Mr. Kennett, a stage IV lung cancer survivor, praised the breakthrough therapies that have kept him alive over the past 18 months. He made the powerful statement that “160,000 people die from lung cancer every year. That is like a jumbo jet full of passengers falling out of the sky every day.”

The overall sentiment of the committee and the panelists was that cancer research cannot be delayed and investments in NIH must be predictable, consistent, and significant. The impact of inadequate funding will be grave, with lifesaving research grinding to a halt, scientists and physicians being forced to focus on other diseases, and patients suffering great consequences as a result.

The Prevent Cancer Foundation advocates an FY2015 appropriations request of $5.26 billion for NCI. For more information, please visit our advocacy site. To view the webcast of the hearing, please visit the Senate Special Committee on Aging.