Annual mesothelioma symposium includes plea for more research funding
Advocates for victims of mesothelioma gathering in Washington, D.C., this week have asked Congress for $5 million for research that could lead to a cure for the deadly disease.
The request, part of the ninth annual Mesothelioma Foundation Symposium, reflects the opinion of advocates that mesothelioma research lags well behind other cancers because of legal and economic considerations related to the use of asbestos. While asbestos use in the United States has decreased significantly, thanks to restrictions put in the 1970s, the U.S. has declined to follow the lead of 55 other countries that have banned any use of the substance.
An estimated 3,200 Americans are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease, which attacks the lining of the lungs, heart and abdomen, is extremely aggressive: most patients die within 18 months of diagnosis.
To date, only one treatment regime has been formally approved for the treatment of mesothelioma. However, that regimen — a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — extends the average survival of patients by just three months.
Between 2004 through 2007, the National Cancer Institute’s annual investment in clinical mesothelioma research was less than $6 million — one tenth of one percent of the NCI’s annual budget, and nine times less, per death, than funding dedicated to researching other cancers.
Health officials believe the incidence of mesothelioma has not yet peaked in the U.S. Asbestos use has been regulated in the U.S. since the 1970s, but more than 1 million Americans remain at risk of exposure on the job, according to government estimates. The mineral was used to make building and construction materials until the 1970s and is still present in homes, offices, schools and some consumer products.
This week's funding request was part of the symposium's annual “Advocacy Day.” Advocates have asked for an additional $5 million through the Department of Defense. The military was a major user of asbestos: According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Navy personnel in particular were exposed to asbestos-containing material, or ACM, in shipyards and ships that were built before the mid-1970s.