Saturday, February 4, 2012

Contraception, abortion, Komen and Catholics (2)

The Susan Komen foundation, a big marketer in the breast cancer biz, is run by conservatives who don't like Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions. But significantly, PP is a major provider of health care to poor women, not limited to abortions (which are only about 3% of its business): including contraception, as well as breast cancer screenings. Komen, now heavily affiliated with the Republicans and lobbyists, would like to divest itself of a relationship with PP. While the outcry has led Komen to "apologize" to say PP is still eligible for grants, they haven't said they'll give them any. I expect they won't.

Incidentally, several people have brought up the myth that abortion is linked to breast cancer. It's not. This has been soundly debunked by numerous studies and meta-studies. It's a lie brought up by anti-abortion activists. This is a sad strategy of the right wing, who seem to have no compunction about simply making up stuff and ignoring actual facts.

I will contrast Komen with the American Cancer Society, which like Komen has its roots in rich businessmen and philanthropists--although much longer ago. To my knowledge, ACS stays out of politics and focuses on sound science. ACS puts a considerable programmatic effort into prevention and screening, and patient services , in addition to a broad cancer research portfolio, ranging from the most basic science to highly applied approaches. They aren't without complaints, which isn't surprising given that they serve numerous constituencies, but I've done a lot of work for them as a grant reviewer and a volunteer, and I am confident they identify the best science they can. If Komen has left a bad taste in your mouth, get involved with the local ACS chapter. They aren't as sleek in their marketing but they are doing good.

What's been interesting reading about this is how many people are cynical about cancer research organizations. I've read over and over again that people think that the agencies and investigators have a vested interest in "not curing cancer" and don't spend enough on research, especially research that targets  a person's specific cancer-of-interest.  Well, no one spends enough on research, but it's not because they don't want to cure cancer. Trust me, no one gets rich doing research.  Moreover, you need a broad based portfolio on all forms of cancer and basic science if you are to make inroads.  Limiting your research dollars to one form of cancer is shortsighted -- it has the effect of drying up the pipeline of fundamental knowledge which is how we will eventually make this a chronic, treatable disease.

REmember, a major insight into familial colon cancer came when it was determined that a causative gene was the same as a DNA repair enzyme studied for years in bacteria. If you hadn't had those years of study of bacterial biology, you would have found the gene in humans and had NO CLUE what it did.  You would never have found it if you had restricted funding to more "applied" questions. (Read more)

I'm not going to argue about the amount that Komen or ACS spends on research or their other priorities. They are different sized organizations with very different portfolios. Komen, for example, doesn't support truly basic research.     I think the problem here is the politicization of women's health: (my emphases)
…Komen remains pretty damn territorial around that whole “cure” thing. In a 2010 story for the Huffington Post, writer Laura Bassett pointed out that, according to Komen’s own financial records, it spends almost “a million dollars a year in donor funds” aggressively going after other organizations that dare to use the phrase “for the cure” – including small charities like Kites for a Cure, Par for the Cure, Surfing for a Cure, Cupcakes for a Cure…  
It has a whole online store encouraging visitors to “purchase with purpose to end breast cancer forever,” where you can buy “silicone bling watches” and “Passionately Pink” ribbon-shaped cake pans. …

Komen also famously outsources its merchandising. It’s teamed up with the likes of KFC for “Buckets for the Cure” – because nothing says you care about women’s health like a big vat of fried chicken. Komen has additionally sold a pink-hued “Promise Me” perfume that contains several toxins – including galaxolide, a synthetic musk that critics claim is a hormone disruptor. ...

That Komen has raised staggering amounts of money is undeniable. There’s also pretty compelling evidence that it has done so in some pretty boneheaded ways. So given its track record, it’s fair to ask what happens now to the 11 percent of the Komen budget that goes to screening. Does it get funneled toward more glitter bracelets and “Promise Bears”? 
....It’s worth noting that while breast cancer rates are dipping, an October report from the American Cancer Society warned that they are declining more slowly among low-income women, and that “Poor women are now at greater risk for breast cancer death because of less access to screening and better treatments. This continued disparity is impeding real progress against breast cancer.” You know who loses when Komen backs away from Planned Parenthood? Probably not those nice, pink-clad ladies who attend Susan Komen wine-tasting events.
It's a clever political move, trying to fragment women's health advocates, and to continue the attempt to render abortion for poor women illegal. Because abortion for rich women, or women who have rich men as lovers, will never be illegal. They will always be able to afford the travel or the doctors to end their pregnancies. Meanwhile, it's poor women whose health will suffer for this --and who are already suffering.

But, as Mitt Romney says, who's worried about the poor?

PS: You want cagey cancer orgs? what does Livestrong do with all the money they make from their yellow bracelets? They aren't supporting screening or research. And revenues are exceeding program expenses.  Read more here.... and don't buy them.

Read the previous post in this series


JCF said...

IT, I agree w/ just about everything you've said in this essay.

However, this

a person's "pet" cancer

sounds rather heartless, considering your talking about the type of cancer someone---or someone they love---has, or (likely) died from.

This isn't like "save my pet tax-break"! This is deeply emotional fight for life. Even if we must disagree w/ someone's priorities (when dealing w/ scarce resources), there's no need to be insulting about it.

[Yes, I'm remembering Cath, as we come up upon her Yahrzeit next month. Pet or no, lung cancer IS underresearched, relative to the # of deaths it causes.]

IT said...

JCF, I'll change the wording, but did you even bother to read the rest of what I said?

Focusing on ONE cancer ignores the fact that some of our most effective "cures" have come from, and will come from, research that is not specific to one type of cancer. This is research that is not funded by groups like Komen, and if it doesn't happen, it's like drying up a pipeline of fundamental knowledge.

You might look at Gleevec, which was developed by rational drug design to target a specific protein kinase that is responsible for a type of leukemia. The work that allowed the rational drug design of Gleevec started way, way before anyone knew that kinase was involved in CML.

Eventually, when the the connection was made that this kinase was involved in CML ( through an inherited form of the cancer that causes a genome rearrangement called the Philadelphia Chromosome) , it was possible to design a drug to inhibit it.

But it would have been meaningless if the basic knowledge of kinase function had not been established by people, who never mentioned the word "leukemia".

The point is it doesn't have to say "lung cancer" to be highly relevant to lung cancer research. So "there are not enough dollars spent on lung cancer" is a highly misleading statement that ignores the totality of how research works.

JCF said...

Yes, IT, I read the whole thing (which is why I could "agree w/ just about everything you've said in this essay").

Thank you for changng the wording.

JCF said...

Off-topic: the Holocaust-Juggernaut rolls on---


Born up by your name-archangel, RIP, Rafael.