Which cancers receive the least funding, and why?

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A recent study that looked at nonprofit research funding for different types of cancer found that some of the most common (and most deadly) cancers receive far less money than others, which can directly affect research, drug development, and patient education.
physician checking patient's lung xray
New research finds that lung cancer is one of the conditions that receive the lowest nonprofit funding.

The research, which appears in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, uncovered trends in cancer funding that highlight areas needing more attention.

The funding of certain types of cancer was poor, considering how often they occur and how many people die from them. These types included colon, endometrial, liver and bile duct, cervical, ovarian, pancreatic, and lung cancer.

On the other hand, some cancers — including breast and pediatric cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma — received significantly more funding relative to those factors.

The lead researchers, all from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, were: Suneel Kamath, the chief fellow in the department of hematology and oncology at the university’s Feinberg School of Medicine at the time of this study; Sheetal Kircher, assistant professor of hematology and oncology at Feinberg; and Al Benson, professor of hematology and oncology at Feinberg.

“Well-funded patient advocacy organizations should be applauded for their successes,” says Kircher. “We hope to bring awareness to the organizations with less relative funding so we can collaborate to improve funding and outcomes for all patients with cancer.”

 

IRS tax records reveal funding disparities

To uncover how much funding each type of cancer received, the researchers looked at the IRS tax records for nonprofits that raise money for any type of cancer. They only included organizations that reported at least $5 million in annual revenue in 2015.

Overall, there were 119 nonprofit organizations, and together, they raised $5.98 billion in annual revenue. A large chunk of this amount was not for one specific cancer — instead, the money went to general cancer funds, such as the American Cancer Society.

For the remaining nonprofit organizations, the researchers looked at how much revenue each generated and compared this with the number of new cases of the particular type of cancer. They also looked at the number of deaths each type caused and considered how many years of lost life could result from those deaths.

By doing this, they were able to determine the rate of funding compared with the prevalence and mortality rate of the disease.

An alarming trend for certain cancers

The results showed that poor funding negatively affected the cancers that people tend to associate with stigmatized behavior.

These cancers include: lung cancer, which smoking cigarettes can trigger; liver cancer, which can result from drinking alcohol; and melanoma, which is often due to a person using tanning beds or spending time in the sun without wearing sunscreen.

“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,” explains Kamath.

These are all deadly and life altering diseases that deserve our attention and support.”

Suneel Kamath

Nonprofit organizations for specific cancers can play a big role in many aspects of cancer research and patient care. Not only can they help fund medical and drug research, but they can promote disease education for patients and their families. They can also help influence health policy.

The researchers note that poor funding also affected other cancers that do not necessarily revolve around behaviors that people consider to be negative.

“Shame and discomfort with talking about our bowels and ‘private parts’ may be reducing funding for diseases like colon or endometrial cancer,” Kamath says.

This study is the first to investigate nonprofit funding distribution across different types of cancer. The study authors hope to make people aware of the disparity and how it can affect patient populations.

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