Other Voices

Texans, here’s how you can help fight cancer — from the ballot box

When Kathy Martin’s doctor suggested that, as a longtime smoker, she be tested for lung cancer, the 62-year-old resident of Graham didn’t have to travel far to be screened.

Thanks to a program that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas funded in 2018, Martin was able to have the necessary scans at her hometown hospital at no cost to her. To her surprise, the screening revealed that she had early-stage cancer, and she underwent surgery to remove a tumor.

Martin is one of thousands of North Texans who have been diagnosed and treated for cancer through programs funded by the cancer institute, a state agency voters approved in 2007. Authorized to issue $3 billion in bonds, the agency, known as CPRIT, has funded groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs in Texas, making our state a leader in the fight against this deadly disease.

CPRIT has awarded more than $2.4 billion to 108 academic institutions, nonprofit organizations and private companies in Texas. Its balance is running down, but an initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot ballot would provide fresh funding. This worthy investment in the health of Texans deserves your support.

The infusion of state funds has enabled our health care system to build a cancer-fighting infrastructure by recruiting top researchers to the state, expanding lifesaving clinical trials, extending cancer prevention programs into rural areas and supporting the development of new drugs and medical devices.

At MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, a CPRIT grant helped to recruit immunologist Jim Allison, who received the Nobel Prize last year for discoveries that led to the development of immunotherapy treatments.

In Dallas, our community has benefited widely from CPRIT. UT Southwestern Medical Center has been a top beneficiary, receiving nearly $460 million in grants. The funding has helped attract more than 50 top researchers to Dallas, enhancing the quality and accessibility of innovative cancer care throughout the region.

In 2016, UT Southwestern achieved a major milestone when it was designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute, recognizing it as one of the nation’s elite cancer centers. Today, the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only such NCI-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just three such centers in Texas.

Cancer patients and their families feel the impact of these investments every day. At UT Southwestern, CPRIT funding helped to establish a Kidney Cancer Program that has generated survival rates for stage 4 cancer patients that are double the national benchmark.

Throughout the region, thousands of residents like Kathy Martin have benefited from cancer screening programs that now reach into 35 counties. In the last year, more than 17,500 people were screened for breast, colorectal, cervical, liver, or lung cancer in North Texas, including many underserved populations, through programs administered by UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth.

Those screenings detected 308 cancers and pre-cancers, many of which might not have been discovered otherwise, and each patient was guided into treatment.

CPRIT also brings people together who are dedicated to the cause, such as Annette Leslie.

In 2010, Leslie’s 17-year-old son, Carson, died of brain cancer. Shortly before he passed away, Carson asked his mother to make sure researchers studied the tumors in his brain because, he told her, “if those tumors can help some kid not die from cancer like I am, I’d like that.”

Annette Leslie formed the Dallas-based Carson Leslie Foundation and was invited to join CPRIT’s Patient Advisory Council on Childhood Cancers. Thanks to her advocacy, CPRIT has expanded its role in pediatric cancer, including a $3.2 million program to fund research directed at less toxic treatments for childhood brain cancer.

In this election, with early voting starting Oct. 21, Texas voters can authorize another $3 billion in bonds to extend CPRIT’s impact well into the future. When you go to the polls, we hope you will remember people like Kathy Martin and Annette Leslie, and cast your vote in favor of Proposition 6 to fight cancer in Texas.

James Huffines is a former chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. Tom Luce is the founder of Texas 2036, which promotes data-based policies to prepare Texas for future growth, and a former member of the CPRIT Oversight Committee.
Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram