News of the District’s revised budget projection touched off a great debate about what to do with the new found surplus of $240 million [ “Gray sets economic priorities in speech,” Metro, Feb. 8]. Returning some of it to taxpayers, as some have suggested, makes perfect sense based on the faulty assumptions about a budget shortfall that triggered the recent tax increase .   

Similarly, those faulty assumptions caused the District’s leaders to trim $3.5 million from their 2006 commitment of tobacco settlement funds to invest in programs designed to reduce the city’s heavy cancer burden. This $3.5 million reduction from the District’s original $20 million commitment has caused great harm to the District’s underserved. That $20 million represented almost the entire investment that the District has made over the past several years toward one of the city’s most severe and costly health concerns. More than 2,700 residents every year receive a cancer diagnosis.  

Plans are essential, but they require resources to be realized. The District’s leaders understood that logic five years ago. The logic today is the same. 

Last March, for example, we helped our grantees document the savings and saved lives from our free colorectal screening program, D.C. Screen for Life. The program offers free colon cancer screening for uninsured residents, among others, especially those in areas of the District where cancer incidence and mortality rates are alarmingly high. Not only did the program save the lives of several men and women who had colon cancer, it saved thousands of dollars in hospital costs because cancerous tumors were detected at earlier stages. The screening procedure costs about $800, compared to an estimated $64,000 in treatment costs per colon cancer patient. 

Despite some gains in the past five years, when the council appropriated tobacco settlement dollars, the need for sustained cancer control is evident. Consider the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s snapshot of cancer in the District. The District’s mortality rate for prostate cancer is higher than anywhere else in the country. The city has the second-highest mortality rate from breast cancer, and it ranks No. 7 for deaths for all cancers combined.

Disparities in cancer mortality rates are largely driven by race and income, and these disparities will not disappear until a concerted effort is made. Early detection, access to care, prevention and clinical trials are the keys to making significant progress against cancer rates that are among the highest in the nation. 

YaVonne Vaughan, Washington

The writer is executive director of the D.C. Cancer Consortium.