Flawed Priorities

Cancer is the number one cause of death in Israel, but the state is investing only a negligible sum in cancer research.

Cancer is the number one cause of death in Israel, but the state is investing only a negligible sum in cancer research. Every year 26,000 Israelis are diagnosed with cancer, and in another 10 years that number will rise to an annual figure of 34,000. In 2007, about 10,000 Israelis died of cancer - a figure substantially higher than the 700 to 1,000 projected to die that year from the flu, or the 382 projected to lose their lives in traffic accidents.

Research is needed to develop new means to prevent and treat cancer. The Israeli medical system has had success in treating the disease, and over the past year there has been an increase in the number of patients surviving the disease. Additional investment in research is necessary to develop treatments that would improve cancer patients' quality of life. The extent of Israeli investment in research is absurd; last year it amounted to about NIS 12 million, which was split between the Health Ministry and the Israel Cancer Association.

A perfect example of the failure to fund cancer research can be seen in relation to the Cancer Genome Project, an international initiative to map cancer genomes. Last weekend there were media reports of a breakthrough by British researchers involved in the project, in which they identified the genetic codes for skin and lung cancer - known to be linked to environmental factors, solar radiation and smoking. Their findings could lead to improved early diagnosis and the development of new treatments.

Various nations have joined this worldwide research project, in efforts that correspond with the forms of cancer common in their particular country. In recent months researchers involved in the project have suggested that Israel join the effort, particularly in an effort to break the genetic codes for breast and ovarian cancer - which among other causes are the result of the so-called Ashkenazi mutation, something highly prevalent in Israel.

The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities has tried to advance the prospects of Israel's involvement in the project, which would have involved an investment of about $20 million, but the funding was not found and Israel remains outside this international effort. The meager investment in cancer research indicates flawed priorities on the part of the country's medical system.

It is important to invest today in what could save lives tomorrow, and not just in programs that are dear to the politicians' hearts (dental care for children) or that reduce the public's fears (swine flu vaccinations). Medical accomplishments are to a large extent products of past research. It is important that this momentum continue, with regard to cancer as well.