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Congress Comes Through for Kids with Cancer

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On July 16, the U.S. Senate followed the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would make a significant investment in childhood cancer research, a bill vitally important to the children valiantly battling the disease and an issue near and dear to my own heart.

Recently renamed the Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act in honor of Ohio Representative Deborah Pryce's 9-year-old daughter who died of cancer in 1999, passed with overwhelming, bi-partisan unanimous consent votes in both the Houses of Congress. President Bush signed the bill into law on July 29 in an Oval Office ceremony.

It goes without saying; families who have children diagnosed with cancer and children's health advocates commend Congress for recognizing the need for this legislation. Since the bill's introduction in 2006, the Conquering Childhood Cancer Act has been a legislative priority for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology. Over the past two years I have urged support for this legislation through our website, lectures, and in my latest book, Growing Up Green. So I want to join with the children, parents and cancer organizations in applauding Congress for moving the bill forward.

The legislation will authorize $30 million for each of the fiscal years beginning in 2009 through 2013 and amends the Public Health Service Act to enhance, expand and intensify pediatric cancer research, including therapeutically applicable research to generate effective treatments, establish a national childhood cancer registry, a crucial tool in collecting information and funding for collaborative pediatric clinical trials, and promote public awareness of pediatric cancer by awarding grants to recognized childhood cancer professional and advocacy organizations to ensure access to the best available therapies for pediatric cancers.

Unlike adult cancer rates, which have been declining since 1990, childhood cancers rates are on the rise, increasing approximately 1% per year. Despite decades of research and improvements in survival rates, cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in children. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 12,500 U.S. children and adolescents (age 0-19) are diagnosed with cancer each year.

"For any child or family who is embroiled in the fight against pediatric cancer, today is a cause for celebration and renewed hope," said Rep. Deborah Pryce at the signing ceremony. "At long last, we will be harnessing our nation's vast resources and expertise to put an end to a scourge that takes the lives of more that 2,300 children every year."

Experts have repeatedly warned that the majority of children's diseases and disorders, including cancer, can be linked to environmental exposures and therefore, preventable. This is an issue I wrote about last February. Unfortunately, laws aimed at prevention have not gained the kind of congressional support as disease management legislation.

Now we need Congress to continue its good work and show the same commitment to our healthy children by taking the next step and support legislation aimed a preventing childhood cancers and other childhood diseases altogether.

Each year the economic impact of treating diseases associated with environmental pollutants, including cancer, can cost tens of billions of dollars. Research by children's environmental health experts like Philip Landrigan, Professor of Pediatrics, Mount Sinai Medical School have calculated the costs associated with four types of childhood diseases linked to environmental toxins, cancer, lead poisoning, asthma, and developmental disorders, can cost approximately $55 billion a year.

Investing in disease treatment and research focused on finding cures are desperately needed. Parents of sick children, who live in constant crisis, work tirelessly to get support for bills that will benefit their children. But these parents cannot do this alone, nor should they.

It is easy to be complacent about disease specific legislation when your child is not affected. Those of us who are blessed with healthy children should not take their good health for granted. Nor should we assume because our children are in good health today they will be tomorrow. As parents and grandparents we should join those families battling children's diseases and insist our government to do more.

Let us not say, "not my child" and therefore "not my problem," for every day 46 children are diagnosed with cancer. This means anyone's child could be cancer's next victim. All parents should be on the front lines and encouraging Congress to keep up the good work and enact laws designed to prevent cancer and protect all our children.

Legislation aimed at reducing or eliminating chemical carcinogens already present in our environment, like the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, could be our nation's best hope in reversing the rise in childhood cancers. Not only will Kid-Safe identify and reduce cancer causing chemicals, by doing so it would also save taxpayers billions of dollars each year in health care related costs.

This nation needs a true commitment to children's health that sets a progressive preventative agenda. The best way to conquer childhood cancer is to stop causing it. The Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act is a good step forward. But let's recognize that this is just the beginning and it is going to take a bigger investment and bold action if we are serious about conquering childhood cancer.

For more information about The Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act, click here.

For more information about the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act, click here.

For more information about The Deirdre Imus Environmental Center for Pediatric Oncology, click here.

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