July 18, 2019; Chicago Tribune
In a study released last week, researchers at Northwestern University report that they found no link between the most common or deadly cancers and the amount of nonprofit funding for those diseases.
The study revealed that many of the deadliest cancers, including colon, endometrial, liver and bile duct, cervical, ovarian, pancreatic and lung cancers, received relatively little nonprofit funding. Other cancers that were less deadly received more funding, such as breast cancer, leukemia, pediatric cancers, and lymphoma. The research was published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
The authors of the study reviewed the IRS tax records of nonprofits, excluding hospitals, that supported cancer of any type and had at least $5 million in annual revenue. This amounted to 119 nonprofits with $6 billion in annual revenue. The majority of the nonprofits were general cancer funds, such as the American Cancer Society. These general cancer nonprofits reported $4.6 billion in annual revenue for the years studied. The researchers compared the remaining revenue for each type of cancer with the number of annual deaths and other factors to learn if the funding for each type of cancer was proportional to its impact.
The study revealed significant disparities in funding. Efforts to alleviate breast cancer attracted $460 million in annual support, which went to 13 nonprofits. By comparison, colorectal cancer, which leads to more deaths each year than breast cancer, drew only $18 million that went to two organizations.
The Chicago Tribune noted that the study found that “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.”
In addition, Dr. Suneel Kamath, the lead author of the study, told Northwestern News, “Shame and discomfort with talking about our bowels and ‘private parts’ may be reducing funding for diseases like colon or endometrial cancer.”
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, interim chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, suggested that limited public awareness and other factors may account for some types of cancer receiving less funding.
Lichtenfeld told the Chicago Tribune that the American Cancer Society provides “a substantial amount of research dollars” to some cancers, though “we could devote more.”
The study noted that nonprofits play an important role in funding advocacy and research. It also suggested that, “Some data show that individual donors are largely unaware of which medical causes are well supported and which are underfunded, but if informed of these disparities, the public can attempt to compensate for them.”
As Kamath told Northwestern News, “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. These are all deadly and life-altering diseases that deserve our attention and support.”—Catherine Jones