Health & Spirit

Some of the deadliest cancers receive lowest amounts of funding, Northwestern study says

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

Some of the deadliest cancers -- such as colorectal, ovarian and lung -- receive the lowest amounts of nonprofit funding, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

The researchers found that breast cancer, leukemia, pediatric cancers and lymphoma were the best funded, in terms of annual revenue generated by nonprofit organizations dedicated to cancer awareness, support and research. Meanwhile, colorectal, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical, endometrial, brain and lung cancer were all poorly funded, considering how frequently they occur and/or how many people they kill.

The study's authors found little connection between how common a cancer is and how much nonprofit funding is dedicated to it. They found no connection between the number of deaths a cancer causes and its funding levels.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

"Even though these are some of the most common diseases we treat and some of the most deadly, the amount of money going toward them in the nonprofit setting is extremely small, and I think that can have a negative impact on research and drug development going toward those cancers," said Dr. Suneel Kamath, the study's lead author.

Kamath, was chief fellow in the department of hematology and oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine when the study was conducted. He's starting a new job at the Cleveland Clinic in September. The study's two other authors are also with Northwestern Medicine.


Kamath speculated that some of the poorly funded cancers might not attract as much money because they carry a stigma or may involve body parts that people feel embarrassed discussing. Six of seven cancers associated with high-risk behaviors, such as sex, smoking and alcohol, were poorly funded, considering their frequency and the number of deaths they cause, the study found.

Lung cancer, for example, can sometimes carry a stigma in which patients may be blamed for their condition. Smoking can increase the risk of lung cancer, though not all lung cancer is caused by smoking.

Lung cancer caused nearly 156,000 deaths in 2017 and nonprofits dedicated to the disease had revenue of $91.6 million, according to the research. By comparison, lymphoma caused more than 21,000 deaths and lymphoma-dedicated nonprofits had $145 million in revenue.

The study's authors looked at all nonprofit cancer organizations with annual revenue of at least $5 million, not including hospitals. In all, they examined 119 organizations with $6 billion in revenue from July 2015 to December 2016 and more recently.


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