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Cancer Research Saves Lives
May 4, 2018

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Q: Why did you join the effort to designate May as National Cancer Research month?

A: Receiving a cancer diagnosis delivers an emotional punch to millions of American families who quickly pin their hopes on lifesaving treatments and cures made possible through biomedical research and scientific discovery. Cancer is a six-letter word that includes more than 200 diseases, afflicting every anatomical inch of the human body, from breast, to blood, lung, pancreas, prostate, brain and everywhere in between. A cancer diagnosis comes with a heavy price tag, fueling medical costs, impacting workplace productivity, dampening economic growth and most acutely, costing hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Cancer deaths are the second most common cause of death in the United States, taking more than 600,000 lives in 2017.

At the same time, advances in biomedical research and innovative therapies are delivering welcome news to patients, survivors and loved ones: A cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. In fact, one in 21 Americans is a cancer survivor. The five-year survival rate for all cancers combined increased by 20 percent over the previous four decades to 69 percent in 2013, according to the National Institutes of Health. Treatments and disease management are extending survivorship and quality of life for millions of patients. However, as American society ages, public policy needs to keep pace with the anticipated increase in cancer diagnoses in the coming decades. More than half of U.S. cancer diagnoses are delivered to those age 65 and older, according to the National Cancer Institute. America's population shift will see this demographic group grow to more than 74 million people within 12 years. New cancer cases are expected to double within that time period, to 2.3 million each year. Curbing cancer's aggressive advance will require continuing breakthroughs in biomedical research and scientific innovation.

At the same time, Americans can make lifestyle commitments to delay looking mortality in the mirror, such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and regular health screenings. Early detection is one of the best ways to beat cancer. No matter which stage a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, society is counting on advances in biomedical research and the delivery of safe and effective therapeutic treatments to extend quality of life and save lives. Americans simply expect the United States to keep pushing the envelope on lifesaving cancer research. From my position in the U.S. Senate, I take seriously the legislative power of the purse and oversight authority to ensure that our federal regulatory regime is working effectively with academia, nonprofit and private sectors to meet this public health challenge and beat cancer.

Q: What measures are you focusing on right now specific to cancer research?

A:The 21st Century Cures Act enacted in 2016 set the stage for more effective and timely access to new treatments and paved the way for a big boost in federal dollars dedicated to medical research. Most recently, Congress increased funding for the National Institutes of Health, bumping up its $37 billion budget by $3 billion. Like every tax dollar spent from the federal treasury, I conduct rigorous oversight to make sure it is spent as intended. When it comes to federal dollars assigned to improve public health, I work to make sure the federal government gets the most bang for the buck and keeps check on quality and patient safety. Most recently,

I'm working to ensure our federal regulatory agencies hold patient safety and human health to the highest standard of care. That's why I am looking into allegations of unauthorized human research testing in 2013 and 2016 by a professor at Southern Illinois University, as well as a South Florida clinic that performed unproven stem cell treatments on patients that left them permanently blind. It should go without saying that the quest for cures needs to be balanced by addressing risk.

That is the job of the FDA. Oversight of the FDA is just one responsibility of Congress. My legislative work this Congress includes co-sponsorship of the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment and Research Act (STAR) to accelerate the development of promising childhood cancer treatments and the ACE Kids Act to improve Medicaid services and better coordinate care for children with complex medical conditions. I'm also working to increase price and quality transparency and improve consumer choice and affordable access to life-saving drugs. Making the health care market more open and responsive to competition will drive up innovation, lower costs and improve patient care.

Senator Grassley is a member of the Congressional Caucus on the Deadliest Cancers, a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of 103 lawmakers working to help raise awareness and advance treatments for cancer diagnoses that are given a five-year survival rate below 50 percent, such as pancreatic cancer.

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