WASHINGTON -- A combination of effective lobbying and growing congressional interest in women's issues has resulted in the most generous federal financing yet for research into breast cancer.
Before Congress adjourned two weeks ago, it approved a budget of more than $400 million for breast cancer research for the fiscal year that began in October.
This is an almost threefold increase from the $158 million budgeted last year for the disease, which strikes one in every eight American women and kills 46,000 a year.
Breast cancer research will receive more federal funds than research into any other kind of cancer; in second place is prostate cancer research, at $39 million.
By comparison, the federal budget for AIDS research is about $1.2 billion for 1993. Congress also adopted new standards for mammography, a procedure for detecting tumors in the breast.
"This act evens out the playing field," said Kerrie Wilson of the American Cancer Society, which lobbied hard for the measure, along with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American College of Radiology. "It assures access to quality mammograms for all women, particularly those who are disadvantaged."
Anxious to demonstrate sensitivity to women's issues in the "Year of the Woman," the House of Representatives and the Senate considered more proposals than ever on breast cancer in this session.
Some energetic lobbyists, taking their cues from successful advocates for people with AIDS, also succeeded in pushing the issue into the political arena. So did female lawmakers like Rep. Mary Rose Oakar of Ohio and Rep. Patricia Schroeder of Colorado, both Democrats.
At a time when federal financing for domestic programs is stretched to the limit, most of the additional money for breast cancer research came from an unconventional source: the Pentagon budget.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. John P. Murtha, D-Pa., sponsored plans that set aside a total of $210 million and attached them as amendments to the military budget for 1993. The remaining $196 million was attached to the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services.
It is not yet clear how the Pentagon intends to spend the $210 million in its breast cancer research budget. The Army now runs a breast cancer research project; last year it had a budget of $25 million. But it is uncertain whether the Army will be solely responsible for the 1993 funds.
Ms. Oakar, who used to be a lone voice in the House of Representatives on the subject of breast cancer, is pleased but not wholly congratulatory about this new crop of favorable legislation.
"I wish this had happened sooner, because we'd be about 10 years closer to finding a cure. Congress is a little Johnny-come-lately on this one." But she added: "Then again, we've got to go forward, not backward."
Mr. Harkin, whose two sisters died of breast cancer in their mid-50s, singled out the efforts of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, the first nationwide advocacy group for people with the disease.
"They not only focused my attention on the lack of funding, but they explained the intense fear that women have of this disease," he said.
Last year the coalition began a campaign to inundate members of Congress with hundreds of thousands of letters and Mailgrams. Many of the group's members have overcome the disease or are living with it.
Fran Visco, the president of the Coalition, said she was delighted about the additional money for breast cancer research but noted that the Army still had jurisdiction over the funds.
"They told us a year ago that there was no way we were going to get $300 million more, but we did it. And now there's no way that we're going to let them throw that away. No way."