WASHINGTON, DC—Cancer tops terrorism, violent crime, and car accidents when it comes to what Americans fear most, according to a new poll commissioned by the American Association for Cancer Research and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF). Officials with both organizations said they believe Americans' concern about cancer can be leveraged to make funding for cancer research a key issue in the 2004 national election campaigns.
In addition to those efforts, the American Cancer Society, through its sister group, the ACS Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN)—has recruited and trained volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire to put cancer issues on the front burner for Presidential candidates.
According to data used in the AACR-LAF survey, in the time since President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971 the United States has spent 0.25% of federal funds to understand and cure cancer, which AACR projects by the year 2010 will strike half of all Americans at some time in their lives.
“We believe that we're poised to emphasize the importance of cancer in the minds of those who are running for the highest office in the land,” said AACR Chief Executive Officer Margaret Foti, PhD, at a news briefing to release the new poll results held at the National Press Club here.
LAF Chairman Lee Walker said the Foundation intends to sensitize the public to the need for more money for cancer research during the early primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In 2000, the AACR and a group of cancer survivors (including Lance Armstrong) focused most of their efforts on the Presidential elections, as they will in 2004. “This year we're going to focus on the Presidential candidates,” confirmed Hamilton Jordan, a three-time cancer survivor and AACR and LAF board member who served as President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff and is now using his political skills as a cancer advocate.
“We have plans to meet with all the Democratic [Presidential] candidates and with the Bush campaign.” Mr. Jordan added, “We're trying to kind of make it simple. Cancer is the greatest fear of the American people. That is a rational fear. There's a hell of a story to tell. We're trying to connect the dots: people's fear connected to increased funding.”
“This is an incredible opportunity right at this time,” said AACR President-elect Lynn M. Matrisian, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Noting that cancer patients have benefited from a relatively modest investment in cancer research with such targeted new drugs as Gleevec, she said, “We can't let the momentum stop.”
Funding Next Generation of Young Scientists
While the scientific environment in cancer research is ripe for advances—especially in nanotechnology, genomics, proteomics, and molecular imaging, Dr. Foti said, “The current climate is very scary because of the lack of money.”
Of great concern is the next generation of young scientists, said George Vande Woude, PhD, Director of the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI. Dr. Vande Woude said at the news briefing that he fears that lack of funding, an unstable career field, the daunting prospect of 10 to 15 years of advanced education and visa problems for foreign students will deter the best and the brightest young scientists from going into cancer research.
Comparison with 2000 Poll
The new poll results are consistent with findings from polling data gathered in 2000 by the ACS, noted Unice B. Lieberman, ACS Director of Communications and Media Advocacy.
ACS polling data from January 2000 show that:
▪ 51% of voters were more worried about getting cancer or about a family member contracting cancer than about any other disease.
▪ 36% of voters said cancer is an urgent problem, while 53% said it is a serious problem.
▪ 42% of voters said the federal government should spend more money on cancer research.
▪ 44% of voters would be more likely to support a candidate who pledges better care for cancer patients and increased access to screening.
▪ 35% of voters would be much more likely to support a candidate who favors increased cancer research funding.
▪ 83% of voters said they either have or had cancer or knew someone close to them who has or had cancer.
The new cancer opinion poll represents a bipartisan, geographically diverse sampling of the views of 1,000 Americans age 18 and older.
Specifically, the poll—which was conducted by the opinion research firm of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates in association with pollster Mark Allen of Public Strategies—found that:
▪ 30% of Americans most fear developing cancer, compared with 12% who most fear being the victim of a serious crime, 13% who most fear being the victim of a terrorist attack, and 19% who most fear getting into a serious car accident.
▪ Of illnesses, 34% of Americans fear developing cancer, compared with 14% who fear developing Alzheimer's disease, 16% who fear developing heart disease, and 9% who fear a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS.
▪ 79% of Americans collectively believe it is “extremely important,” “important,” or “somewhat important” for the candidates for President to talk about cancer research and finding a cure.
▪ 58% of Americans believe that funding for cancer and finding a cure do not get enough attention from the federal government.
▪ 80% of Americans collectively “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” increasing federal funding for cancer research.
▪ Told that taxpayers now spend $4.6 billion annually for the work of the National Cancer Institute, 40% of respondents said they would be “very willing” to spend $8 billion, 30% said they would be very willing to spend $10 billion, 23% said they would be very willing to spend $15 billion, 19% said they would be very willing to spend $20 billion, and 17% said they would be very willing to spend “as much as it takes to find a cure, even if it means raising taxes or cutting other programs.”
▪ Told that 40% of all living Americans will develop cancer in their lifetimes, a number projected to increase to 50% by 2010, 72% of those polled said the country is not doing enough to fund cancer research.
‘The Obligation of the Cured’
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, 32, who was diagnosed with metastatic testicular cancer in 1996, said he would rather not relive his life as a cancer patient by talking about it. But, during a National Press Club lunch, the father of three young children spoke of what one of his physicians called “the obligation of the cured.” The physician said that when the cyclist went back out into the world as a cancer survivor, “You can choose to share this obligation of the cured.”
Mr. Armstrong said he thought about those words and decided to accept the role. “It's been seven years; it would have been easy to walk away,” he said. But, he noted, “I want to use my experience to keep the spotlight on this problem. I can tell this story forever.
“Cancer is a huge problem, and it's going to become a bigger problem. This is a bipartisan issue…this is not a left or a right issue; it's an issue straight down the middle.”
Comparing cancer to “a terrible terrorist,” Mr. Armstrong said, “It's a fear for me…I'm more at risk than anybody else in this room, I suspect.” He added, “It's the opponent that I will never turn my back on.”
Mr. Armstrong said he hopes to compete in the 2004 and 2005 Tour de France cycling events; and after that, his future is open.