Federal funding for prostate and breast cancer research is provided by the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill and grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). While NIH divides the money Congress has allocated to them by convening a panel of outside scientists, known as the Center for Scientific Review (CSR), to evaluate research grant applications, politics can come into play in the amount allocated to each disease in the Defense bill. Since women raise their voices louder about their health issues, politicians voting and writing these bills tend to take notice. Men’s silence about their health issues, on the other hand, means less funding.
“The women’s vote in this country is a very important vote for a lot of politicians. So if they’re out there advocating for their cause and you hear from a thousand women in your district about breast cancer, you’re going to care about it a lot more,” Johnson said. “I can produce maybe two or three guys in any given district.”
Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told TheDC that the fact that there are more researchers who study breast cancer than there are those who look at prostate cancer also has had an affect on the overall money allocation.
”Funding parallels how many people go on clinical trials and we have had numerous attempts to do trials on prostate cancer, but since many urologists do not participate in them, money does not flow into the trials and they get shut down,” Brawley said. “Breast cancer is also thought of as a disease that might be more curable and more treatable, and so young scientists that are thinking about a career actually are drawn toward something that they might make inroads in.”
Despite the disparity, prostate cancer advocates continue to push forward, looking at the successes of their female counterparts. Zenka believes that the movement will get stronger. “We can do better. As I say our sisters in the breast cancer movement have set a wonderful example and that is what we need to meet,” he said.
Laura Donovan contributed to this story.