These deadly cancers miss out on research funding

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Many of the deadliest or most common cancers get the least amount of nonprofit research funding, a new study reports.

Colon, endometrial, liver and bile duct, cervical, ovarian, pancreatic, and lung cancers are all poorly funded compared to how many people have them and how many people die, according to the study in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

In contrast, breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, and pediatric cancers are 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,” says corresponding author Suneel Kamath, who was the chief fellow in the department of hematology 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 organizations 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, researchers say.

“Well-funded patient advocacy organizations should be applauded for their successes,” says coauthor Sheetal Kircher, assistant professor of hematology and oncology. “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.”

For the study, researchers also looked at factors that may influence which cancers receive more public support over others. Cancers associated with a stigmatized behavior, 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 says.

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

The scientists examined 119 organizations 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 (for example, the 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.

Additional coauthors are from Northwestern. The study did not receive funding or support from any government, nonprofit, or industry entities.

Source: Northwestern University