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Measures seek more Florida cancer research

Associated Press
Published February 24, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - Dennis Prucha is thankful for the doctors who tried to cure his wife's cancer, and for the 15 years the experimental treatments gave him with her after her diagnosis.

Over those years, the Pruchas drove back and forth between their Florida Panhandle home and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for the aggressive, cutting-edge treatments Karen couldn't get closer by. Prucha, then an Air Force officer, is particularly grateful to his military bosses, who gave him time off for the trips.

His wife of 34 years finally lost the battle last March.

Advocates for cancer patients say not everyone gets such support from their employer, making some of the most visionary treatment unavailable to many people in a state that has the second-highest number of cancer deaths in the nation, behind California.

A group of lawmakers said Wednesday they hope to change that. They propose to spend a quarter-billion dollars this year, plus $50-million more a year for the next five to pay for cancer-fighting research in Florida.

That would translate into more access to clinical trials and more treatment options for Florida patients, researchers and patient advocates say.

"M.D. Anderson was wonderful, but we need a cancer center here," said Prucha. "We got to use some very exotic equipment that was only available at the largest research centers. ... I wish we had that facility here."

As it is, if two people are diagnosed with similar cancers and one stays in Florida and one goes to Boston, for example, "you have a better chance of living in Boston," said Karen Moffitt of the American Cancer Society.

Research trials give patients more potential breakthrough care and more monitoring, she said.

Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, is the lead House sponsor of the measure to boost cancer research spending. He said 40,000 people will die from the disease in Florida this year.

Hasner envisions that $500-million in total spending over the next five years would increase private investment toward cancer cures and create potentially more than 70,000 new jobs.

His measure would tap expected increased tax dollars this year for a one-time $250-million infusion of money into the project, and boost that by using $50-million a year from the state cigarette tax for five years. Much of the cigarette tax money isn't currently earmarked for anything specific.

Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, is sponsoring a similar measure in the Senate. His would rely on the state's settlement with the tobacco industry for the money.

"What is important is that we kick-start this research," Saunders said. "That we get the money from somewhere."

[Last modified February 24, 2005, 00:53:06]

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