IN THE context of a $2.8 trillion federal budget, it's not much money. But the Bush Administration's proposed $40 million cut in funding for the National Cancer Institute is ill timed and ill considered.
As the incidence of several types of common cancers continues to rise in the United States, the NCI, the federal agency that funds most research on the disease, needs more resources rather than less.
Congress can, and should, take action to at least preserve NCI funding, currently at $4.79 billion. The administration is proposing $4.75 billion.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the cut would interrupt an almost unbroken upward trend in funding for the institute dating to the early 1980s.
Spurred by development of effective treatment measures, the death rates for the most common types of cancer - breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal - are declining.
But the institute points out that the incidence - the rate at which people are diagnosed - is rising for breast cancer in women, prostate and testicular cancer in men, leukemia, non-hodgkin's lymphoma, myeloma, melanoma, and cancers of the thyroid, kidney, and esophagus.
In addition, more research is needed to determine why certain groups, including blacks and people of lower socioeconomic status, suffer the highest rates of new cancer and cancer deaths.
The ostensible reason for the cut is that the government must sink more money into preparation for the possibility of bioterrorism and a bird flu pandemic. The real reason though is the war in Iraq, which now costs the U.S. at least $6 billion each month and has resulted in a massive re-direction of budgetary resources toward the military effort overseas.
Put another way, the proposed cancer institute cutback is equivalent to the amount expended in roughly 4.8 hours of the war.
Unless Congress has its priorities totally confused, it will find a way to fully fund the National Cancer Institute.