Kathleen Schmeler, MD, spends a lot of time trying to vaccinate young Texans against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and other types of cancer.
As part of a special four-person panel on the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas Monday, Dr. Schmeler described how funding from CPRIT makes her work possible.
"The amazing thing about CPRIT is that they invest not only in discovery, and we have amazing discoveries that have been made with the support of CPRIT, but they're also in support of what is already known to be evidence-based to the people who need it," said Dr. Schmeler, an associate professor of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
She spoke as part of the Texas Medical Association's Distinguished Speakers Series presentation, "A Texas-Sized Fight Against Cancer." Dr. Schmeler was joined by Mamta Jain, MD, a professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas; Carlton Allen, program director at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler; and Lorraine Reitzel, PhD, a professor of psychological, health, and learning sciences at the University of Houston.
The panel comes at a time when CPRIT's fate is in doubt. Proposition 6 – a proposed state constitutional amendment to extend the agency's funding by $3 billion – will be one of 10 proposed amendments Texans will vote on come Nov. 5. TMA supports Proposition 6. Early voting runs through Friday, Nov. 1.
CPRIT dollars get split in three main areas: 72% goes to research, 18% goes to building infrastructure (such as funds to start biotech companies), and 10% goes to prevention, according to the agency. Each of the four speakers has received CPRIT grant money for cancer prevention efforts.
Without CPRIT, funding for anti-cancer activities in Texas will suffer greatly, says Dr. Jain, who specializes in treating patients with liver cancer. Texas already has unique problems in treating cancer, she says.
For instance, she is able to screen patients for hepatitis C, a major cause of liver cancer, thanks to funding from CPRIT. However, Texas Medicaid still does not pay for patients’ expensive hepatitis C treatment in many cases.
“I know I can cure all of these people,” she says. “But if they have Medicaid and they have early-stage disease, I will have to go in there and tell them, ‘I’m sorry, I cannot cure you’ – even though I know medically I can. This is a problem that other states do not have to face.”
Mr. Allen said his project to screen people for colorectal cancer especially helps the uninsured, whose screening rate is typically about 30% compared with 65% for those who are insured.
“Colorectal is one of those cancers that, if you follow the guidelines and screen appropriately, could be prevented with regular screening,” he said.
Dr. Reitzel, who focuses on ways to prevent tobacco-related cancers, says CPRIT’s survival is important to her personally as well as professionally.
“I'm a cancer survivor for 12 years, so cancer prevention is a huge passion of mine,” she said. “And I think we're lucky to live in a state that has an organization specifically designed to combat cancer with many diverse methods, from bench all the way to bedside. And I'm looking forward to seeing the impact of CPRIT and its programs on cancer prevention.”