Policy Issue Brief: Federal Funding for Cancer Research

Strengthening the Nation’s Commitment to Curing Cancer
April 27, 2018

 

ASCO’s Policy Issue Briefs provide succinct overviews and relevant data on major policy issues impacting patients with cancer and the physicians who care for them. These briefs are designed to be especially helpful for journalists, offering background information on key issues across health policy today. Access ASCO’s full collection of Policy Issue Briefs.

Issue Overview

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) supports the overwhelming majority of federally funded medical research, and with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has led to significant advances in cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life of patients. More than 15 million cancer survivors[1] are alive in the United States today, due in no small measure to the nation’s commitment to cancer research.

Federally funded cancer research typically explores clinical issues that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are not likely to pursue, such as trials that:

  • Evaluate direct comparisons of already-available treatments, multiple drugs, or combinations of different types of treatments;
  • Assess screening and prevention strategies;
  • Study treatments for rare cancers (which often aren’t profitable for companies);
  • Examine strategies for improving the quality of life for patients with cancer and survivors.

As cancer care demand and complexity has increased, federal research funding has failed to keep pace. For much of the past decade, federal funding for medical research has been flat, and in inflation-adjusted dollars, the NIH budget was 20% lower in 2016 than it was a decade prior. This dramatic drop in funding limits the ability of scientists to conduct research that advances the screening, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Current Status of Federal Funding

In March 2018, Congress passed an omnibus appropriations bill that provided a $3 billion funding increase for the NIH for fiscal year (FY) 2018, which runs through September 30, 2018 —the biggest NIH funding increase in 15 years. This boost in funding, which brings the total NIH investment to $37.1 billion for FY 2018, will help the NIH regain much-needed momentum in cancer research following a decade of stagnant funding.

As cancer care demand and complexity has increased, federal research funding has failed to keep pace. ASCO applauds the recent increases in NIH funding over the last three years, but despite these increases, NCI’s budget remains lower than it was before the 2008 recession when adjusted for inflation. This limits the ability of scientists to conduct research that advances the screening, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

Congressional discussions about FY 2019 funding levels are still in progress.

Key Data Points

Federally Funded Research Has Fueled Cancer Breakthroughs

  • Better Prevention of Cancers
    • Research supported by the NCI helped establish that human papilloma virus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer and helped develop the technology used to create the first HPV vaccines.[2]
  • Earlier, Better Detection Of Cancers
    • The Pap test has helped reduce cervical cancer mortality by 60% since 1995.[3]
    • Lung cancer screening has reduced deaths from lung cancer among participants by 20%.[4]
  • Better Ways Of Managing Side Effects
    • The first anti-nausea drug cut vomiting episodes in patients undergoing chemotherapy by 70%.[5]
  • More Effective Treatments
    • Highly effective treatments in many childhood cancers have resulted in increases in cure rates (from 10% to 80% since the 1950s).[6]
    • Breast-conserving surgery for breast cancer has enabled women to avoid disfiguring mastectomies.
    • Tailored combination treatments have improved survival and reduced side effects for many common cancers.

Communities Nationwide Rely on Federal Research Funding

  • NIH funds studies conducted by more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world. [7] 
  • Every $1 in NIH funding generates $2.21 in local economic growth.[8]
  • In FY 2018, NIH-funded research supported 379,471 jobs in the United States.[9]
  • About 10% of the NIH's budget supports projects conducted by nearly 6,000 scientists in its own laboratories.[10]

Federal funding for cancer research has driven many of the most important prevention and treatment advances of the last 50 years, such as unlocking the major cause of cervical cancer, proving that lung cancer screening can save lives, and helping women survive breast cancer without disfiguring surgery. These advances have been principally supported by government agencies, have changed how we survive cancer and have improved millions of lives.” ASCO President Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO

For More Information


[1]American Cancer Society: Cancer facts & figures 2017. https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-...

[2] National Cancer Institute. Milestones in Cancer Research and Discovery. https://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/250-years-milestones.

[3]National Institutes of Health. Cervical Cancer Fact Sheet. https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/viewfactsheet.aspx?csid=76..

[4] National Cancer Institute. Milestones in Cancer Research and Discovery. https://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/250-years-milestones.

[5]Powerful Anti-Nausea Drugs Alleviate Major Side Effect of Cancer Treatment, 1991; Dr. Patricia A. Ganz.

[6] O’Leary M, Krailo M, Anderson JR, Reaman GH. Progress in Childhood Cancer: 50 Years of Research Collaboration, A Report from the Children’s Oncology Group. Seminars in oncology. 2008;35(5):484-493. doi:10.1053/j.seminoncol.2008.07.008.

[7]National Institutes of Health. Budget. https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/budget.

[10] National Institutes of Health. Budget. https://www.nih.gov/about-nih/what-we-do/budget