Imagine the following headline on tomorrow's Huffington Post:
'Terrorist-made virus kills millions'
The fictional news article would read like this:
The World Health Organization (WHO) released today a report announcing the discovery of a terrorist-made virus (TMV) capable of killing millions of people around the globe every year.
In the U.S.A. alone, 1.6 million people will be newly diagnosed with TMV in 2012 and the number of TMV deaths will surpass a half million. TMV will account for nearly 1 in every 4 deaths, killing more than 1,500 U.S. citizens per day. Worldwide, TMV is expected to kill 22 million people in 2013 and this number will increase to 40 million by 2020.
TMV affects people of all ethnicities, creeds and socioeconomics status. Although most TMV-caused deaths occur in adults, TMV is the second cause of death in children, exceeded only by accidents.
The economic burden of TMV-associated morbidity and mortality in the USA is estimated at more than 220 billion dollars per year, about 100 billion in direct medical costs and 120 billion in lost productivity due to early death.
Despite these staggering figures, TMV is absent from the political discussions leading to the 2012 presidential elections. Presidential candidates Obama and Romney have not talked about TMV during the presidential debates. A nationwide effort to prevent and cure TMV is lacking.
Wow, such dreadful news would be depressing, huh? Good thing that TMV is just a product of my imagination...
OK, do me a favor now, go back to the top of the post and re-read what I wrote, replacing TMV with Cancer.
Yep, those numbers were extracted from the Cancer Facts and Figures 2012 report by the American Cancer Society.
I analyzed the transcripts of the three presidential debates and noticed that the word cancer was pronounced once by Obama, and never by Romney.
Obama said cancer during the second debate in the following context: "... there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings."
That's it, nothing else.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney, what are your plans to prevent and cure cancer? By how much do you plan to increase the budget of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)? You surely know that has been pretty flat lately, don't you? Funds available to the NCI in fiscal year 2011 totaled $5.058 billion, $40 million less than 2010. Personally, I think 5 billion is a joke, a bad joke. Last year we as a nation spent $17 billion on video games. So it's safe to say that we are more a nation of video gamers than cancer warriors.
Talking about wars and warriors, did you know that last year alone cancer killed more American citizens than all the U.S.A. soldier casualties in all the wars this country ever participated in? Yes, that's more than half a million cancer deaths per year. Then, how come the budget of the Department of Defense is more than 100-fold larger than the NCI's?
Can we really blame Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney for their lack of cancer talk?
How many times did you say cancer today?
The ugly truth is that we are numb. We don't talk about cancer. We don't want to hear about it. It is the elephant in the room that just won't go away. Why would our presidential candidates talk about it? Did anybody asked them about their plans to end the war on cancer?
When the time to vote comes, please think about cancer.
This much I will say, if you care for my two cents:
The number one risk factor of dying of cancer is not having medical insurance. The explanation is simple: uninsured people get screened less often than the insured, so by the time their tumors are detected they are more likely to have metastasized. Because metastatic tumors account for most cancer deaths, early detection is key. Right now there are more than 48 million uninsured Americans, all of them at increased risk of dying of cancer. Perhaps the single most impactful intervention a president can make in the war on cancer is to ensure that everyone gets access to early screening.
I am Joaquin Espinosa, a cancer biologist. Please help me and other cancer researchers bring cancer to the forefront of our national consciousness.