Protesters Put Pressure On The Hill

At age 23, Kimberly Higginbotham got the news many women her age don’t expect to hear — she had breast cancer. Higginbotham credits early detection as key in her fight to beat the disease, and the primary reason she joined 10,000 volunteers in Washington, D.C., to oppose budget cuts to the National Cancer Institute. The event was sponsored by the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network with a focus on getting Congress to reauthorize the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, increase research funding, and sign the Congressional Cancer Promise.

Under the 2007 proposed federal budget, President Bush will cut $40 million from the National Cancer Institute budget. The cut is small compared with the $5 billion the government spends yearly on cancer programs. However, other cancer programs have been cut over the last two years, including early detection programs.

The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program serves uninsured, underinsured, and low-income women. Its current funding of $203 million reaches only one in five eligible women. An increase of $47 million would allow for another 135,000 screenings, but a cut in funding would be a huge setback.

“We’re going backwards. There are so many avenues in research to combat cancer, we should be increasing the investment into research, not cutting it,” says Wendy Selig, vice president of legislative affairs for the American Cancer Society.

Delores Burgess, breast cancer survivor and author of the book Suspicion of Malignancy (United Writers Press Inc.; $13.00) is also concerned about the effect lack of funding for early detection can have on African American women. “Too many women still don’t get mammograms because of fear and lack of education about cancer screenings. This is even more prevalent in the African American community.”

A study conducted by ACSCAN shows there were 138,000 African American cancer patients in 2005, with prostate and breast cancer being the top diagnoses for males and females, respectively. Burgess adds, “Congress has to remember we are talking about real people. They should think about their mother, sister, daughter, or wife. These are the people affected by breast cancer.”