2009.05.02 – Specter announces funding to research rare cancer


Specter announces funding to research rare cancer

Published: Saturday, May 2, 2009 4:14 AM EDT

HAZLETON — As a cancer survivor, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter brought a message of hope Friday to those who live in an area where Schuylkill, Luzerne and Carbon counties meet and are suffering from a rare form of cancer.

And, as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he brought money.

Specter met with a contingent of local doctors, citizens and public health officials Friday at Penn State Hazleton to announce congressional approval of $5.5 million in federal funding. The money will support research into an unusually high number of polycythemia vera diagnoses in an area surrounding Ben Titus Road between Tamaqua and McAdoo.

Polycythemia vera, or PV, is a rare disease in which too many red blood cells are made in the bone marrow. The blood becomes thick with too many cells, which can lead to numerous internal ailments including leukemia and abnormal bone marrow stem cells.

At the conclusion of a two-year study into 33 clinically confirmed cases of the rare cancer near Ben Titus Road, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry confirmed last summer the statistical significance of PV diagnoses in the area.

Specter, who made headlines this week when he announced a switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party, became involved in the Ben Titus Road issue in 2005 after touring the nearby McAdoo Associates Superfund site. He announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would partner with the state Department of Health to analyze regional statistics of PV.

The senator has returned to the Tamaqua and Hazleton areas several times since then to update residents on the progress of the investigation.

On Friday, Specter said the $5.5 million allocation would fund assessments of local PV trends and risk factors in the cancer cluster area, including those related to the environment.

The allocation includes an award of $499,000 to Drexel University’s School of Public Health in Philadelphia to conduct studies of the disease.

Attending Friday’s meeting by teleconference from the CDC office in Atlanta, toxicologist/epidemiologist Dr. Vince Seaman said a team of research experts will visit the Ben Titus Road area with a list of tasks to accomplish including environmental and residential testing.

“Community participation in the process is very, very important,” Specter said.

Local physician Dr. Peter Baddick said Specter’s assistance in funding research may lead to the discovery of the cause of PV and, ultimately, a cure.

“This may be the area in the state, in the country, in the world, where we finally find a cure for polycythemia vera,” Baddick said. “On behalf of the people who are no longer with us, on behalf of the people still fighting, I thank you.”

Specter expressed sympathy to the families who lost a loved one to the disease, and empathy to those still fighting.

“My heart goes out to people who have lost a loved one to cancer. It’s awful, absolutely awful,” Specter said. “For people who have died, it’s as bad as it can be.

“I had Hodgkins (disease) myself. When a doctor tells you your life expectancy, take it seriously but don’t take it as a death sentence. Keep going,” Specter said. “We are going to try to find the source of this cancer. And hopefully it will lead us to the cure. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to provide more than hope. I’m here to provide cash.”

Approved by Congress and President Obama in March, the funding is part of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriation.