Many of the deadliest cancers receive the least amount of research funding

19 Jul 2019
Many of the deadliest cancers receive the least amount of research funding

Many of the deadliest or most common cancers get the least amount of nonprofit research funding, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network that examined the distribution of nonprofit research funding in 2015 across cancer types. Colon, endometrial, liver and bile duct, cervical, ovarian, pancreatic and lung cancers were all poorly funded compared to how common they are and how many deaths they cause, the study found.

In contrast, breast cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma and paediatric cancers were all well-funded, respective to their impact on society.

"The goal of this study is not to divert funds away from cancers that are well-supported, but rather expand funding for other cancers that aren't getting enough support currently," said corresponding author Dr Suneel Kamath, who was the chief fellow in the department of haematology and oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine when he conducted the study. "These are all deadly and life-altering diseases that deserve our attention and support."

Cancer-related nonprofit organisations play an important role in funding medical research, supporting the education of patients and their families and influencing health policy.

Underfunding of these common cancers could negatively impact research, drug development and the number of FDA drug approvals for poorly funded cancers.

"Well-funded patient advocacy organisations should be applauded for their successes," said co-author Dr Sheetal Kircher, assistant professor of haematology and oncology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine oncologist. "We hope to bring awareness to the organisations with less relative funding so we can collaborate to improve funding and outcomes for all patients with cancer."

The study also explored factors that may influence which cancers receive more public support over others.

Cancers that are associated with a stigmatised behaviour, such as lung cancer with smoking or liver cancer with drinking, were all poorly funded.

"Shame and discomfort with talking about our bowels and 'private parts' may be reducing funding for diseases like colon or endometrial cancer," Kamath said.

The nationwide study, conducted between October 2017 and February 2018, used IRS tax records to identify all nonprofit organisations that support any type of cancer and made at least $5 million in annual revenue in 2015.

The scientists examined 119 organisations with a total of $5.98 billion in annual revenue.

Most of this ($4.59 billion) went to general cancer charities with no focus on one disease (e.g. American Cancer Society).

The authors compared the amount of revenue for each cancer type with the number of new cases, number of deaths and number of years of life lost to see if the amount of funding for each cancer is proportional to how common and/or deadly it is.

Source: Northwestern University