Spotlighting Mesothelioma Research: Letter from Lawmakers Creates Buzz

by Sokolove Law

On January 10, 2014, Congresswomen Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) sent a letter with the signatures of 19 bipartisan members of the U.S. House of Representatives to Dr. Harold Varmus, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), advising him to focus on mesothelioma research. Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

The letter urged Dr. Varmus to create a scientific framework for mesothelioma, stating that “Mesothelioma, a frequently terminal cancer for which there has been very little diagnostic or treatment progress, deserves immediate attention.” Scientific frameworks identify key questions to guide researchers in solving complex problems. President Obama had signed a related bill into law on January 2, requiring NCI to create scientific frameworks for cancers with low survival rates.

Mesothelioma Survival Rates: An Urgent Need for Funding and Research

Mesothelioma has one of the worst relative survival rates of any cancer. Only 5-10% of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis.

In its most recent report, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that mesothelioma accounted for about 23,277 confirmed U.S. deaths between 1999 and 2007.

The Letter: Providing Hope for the Future

On February 28, 2014, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) announced that Congresswomen Betty McCollum and Chellie Pingree would receive the Bruce Vento Hope-Builder Award for writing the letter to NCI. Executive Director Mary Hesdorffer said, “We are overjoyed to see so many of our elected officials recognizing the immediate need for mesothelioma research.” The award was named after Congresswoman McCollum’s predecessor, Bruce Vento, a prominent member of Congress who passed away only 8 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Rep. Pingree accepted the award at the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma on March 6. She stated that the project will “help move forward the opportunities and the investment to make sure that there’s a cure.”