In many GOP primary debates on many topics, not once have I heard a serious discussion of the No. 1 health-related killer in the world: cancer.
One-half of American men and one-third of American women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, severely impacting our national security, our economy and our people, who must endure the pain cancer of watching loved ones suffer and die. It's time we talk about this. It's time we get answers from candidates asking for our vote in 2012.
We have a series of presidential primary debates coming up, so we need to contact debate moderators and reporters to encourage them to ask a very important question that must be asked, discussed and debated:
As President of the United States, how would you use the bully pulpit to reduce the number of annual cancer deaths, and what policies would you propose to put us on course to eradicate this dreaded disease?
Most people in this country know someone who is battling or has battled cancer. I'm battling it myself -- I was diagnosed at age 35 with prostate cancer -- and sadly I know others who have recently succumbed. Gone too soon.
Indeed, the 40-year "war on cancer," begun with 1971's National Cancer Act, has been an abject failure.
Why hasn't this vital topic been covered in the debates? Why aren't solutions to ending cancer being debated? I want to hear candidates discuss policy and, perhaps more importantly, how they'd use the bully pulpit to encourage preventative dietary and lifestyle habits known to aid in the prevention of cancers, propose ideas for raising awareness of earlier screenings, suggest quarterly symposiums of the world's brightest and best researchers, doctors and scientists, and discuss known causes of cancer and its economic impact and raise solutions.
Many TV talking heads and radio talk show hosts say government needs to stay out of our lives, but when you are the president of the United States, you have a platform. Every utterance, every move is captured and analyzed. You can spur discussions and put a magnifying glass on underreported issues that deserve more attention. Americans deserve to know how 2012 presidential candidates will use such influence to make a difference in the war on cancer.
Why is this important?
1. It's in the interest of our national security
2. It lowers health care costs for all
3. It encourages citizens to live to their fullest potential
Here are the facts, from 2011:
- About 1,596,670 Americans have been newly diagnosed with cancer
- 571,950 Americans died of cancer in 2011 -- more than 1,500 people a day. Those are 571,950 of our mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, neighbors, coworkers and fellow Americans.
- About one-third of the 571,950 cancer deaths in 2011 were related to obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition, and thus could have been prevented.
The financial costs of cancer are high for both individual sufferers and for America. The National Institutes of Health estimate the 2010 overall annual costs of cancer were as follows:
- Total cost: $263.8 billion
- Direct medical costs (total of all health expenditures): $102.8 billion
- Indirect morbidity costs (cost of lost productivity due to illness): $20.9 billion
- Indirect mortality costs (cost of lost productivity due to premature death): $140.1 billion
Worldwide: In 2008, cancer accounted for nearly $1 trillion in economic losses from premature death and disability.
Using the bully pulpit is not forcing people or private business to adopt new habits or practices. Rather, I'd argue, it's taking advantage of the presidential office to provide necessary leadership for the common good. The president of the United States encouraging Americans to adopt healthier dietary and lifestyle habits is not forcing anyone to do anything.
It's not popular to tell an overweight and ailing nation that many of our own actions have made us the highest health care-spending nation on the planet. We don't want to alienate voters! However we have serious issues with cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke -- all often preventable through diet and lifestyle.
And believe it or not, our diminishing health and failing war on cancer are national security issues. America always has led -- been a beacon of hope -- and as such, we must take the lead in the fight to end cancer.
We can do it, but it takes bold leadership. It requires the use of the bully pulpit to encourage and promote radical dietary and lifestyle changes which world renowned experts and organizations say can reduce cancer deaths.
"We need to recommit to the anti-cancer effort,'' says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer of the American Cancer Society.
But that takes leadership.
Now it's time to hear from the candidates.
Follow Gabe Canales on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GabeCanales