The Pentagon's valuable cancer research

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Thursday, March 17, 2011; 6:58 PM

I am one of the advocates prodding lawmakers to increase funding for the Defense Department's Ovarian Cancer Research Program ["Cancer research is in Pentagon budget," news story, March 13]. Advocacy groups and members of Congress have been strong champions of Pentagon-conducted cancer research for one reason: Defense Department cancer researchers get amazing results with minimal investment.

Cancer research performed by the Pentagon is unique in that it funds high-risk, high-reward projects that may yield nothing or a spectacular breakthrough. Many of these projects have gathered enough data to receive funding from the National Cancer Institute, taking the research even further. The Pentagon's annual budget for ovarian cancer research is only $12 million, but it has yielded multiple discoveries that benefit women with the disease. One example is the OVA1TM test, which helps physicians determine whether a pelvic mass is benign or malignant. Another breakthrough is a compound that slows ovarian cancer growth.

Ovarian cancer is the most deadly gynecologic cancer, killing about 14,000 women annually. As Congress weighs additional budget cuts, I hope it will not sacrifice programs that have proved their worth.

Karen Orloff Kaplan, Washington

The writer is chief executive of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

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As a 12-year survivor of a challenging case of prostate cancer who has served as a "consumer reviewer" in the Defense Department's Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP), I can testify that the program fills critical gaps. The Pentagon has talented, dedicated medical management professionals but is outside of the mainstream of federal disease research, enabling the program to shed the blinders of conventional wisdom and do effective pioneering work. One drug that was launched in the program, denosumab, has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and another, abiraterone, tested quickly in the PCRP's innovative Clinical Trials Consortium, is expected to be approved this year. A half-dozen more drugs are in Phase III clinical trials and look promising.

James Patrick Waldenfels, Annandale

The writer is a member of the board of the Virginia Prostate Cancer Coalition.


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