Blindspots in Cancer Funding

Funding For High-Profile Cancers

Every year in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month succeeds in raising millions of dollars to fund research and awareness programs for this devastating cancer that affects 12 percent of women in the United States alone. Men, too, are affected by the disease, and more than 2,000 American men are expected to be diagnosed with the invasive cancer in 2019. Thankfully, extensive funding has helped with early detection and treatment of this cancer. It’s now one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer in the United States. Despite its prevalence, recently published survival rates are encouraging. The five-year survival rate of women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer (whose cancer has not metastasized) is 99 percent. Since the late ‘80s, survival rates have drastically improved.

Pediatric cancers, too, have seen an important increase in survival rates. While the number of children being diagnosed with childhood cancers is increasing, the five-year survival rate has improved dramatically, largely thanks to improved treatment options available.
High-profile cancers like breast cancer, pediatric cancers, leukemia, and lymphoma receive a large amount of funding, and organizations have successfully raised awareness for these prolific and deadly diseases.

There are, however, several cancers that have failed to catch the attention of donors and receive limited funding for research and awareness initiatives. Pancreatic, lung, gallbladder, stomach, and gynecological cancers have lower survival rates and yet touch a significant portion of the country’s population.

A recent study in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network explained that a large portion of deadly cancers receive limited funding despite their low survival rates and prevalence.

While all cancer funding is important, the study suggests that efforts must be put forth to recalibrate our perceptions regarding these cancers.

Why Are These Cancers Underfunded?

There’s evidence to suggest that people associate negative behaviors — like alcoholism and smoking — with diseases like liver and lung cancer. Lung cancer is only second to skin cancer in prevalence in the United States. While the risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer rises in those who smoke, the disease does not discriminate.

Another barrier to awareness and funding efforts is people’s reluctance to speak about embarrassing symptoms — like those related to the bowels or genitals.

Many women’s cancers (cervical and ovarian, for instance) are also underfunded. For diseases like ovarian cancer, a lack of funding represents a substantial setback concerning detection and treatment options. The deadly cancer’s low survival rates are in part due to the fact that many people are diagnosed when the cancer has already metastasized. According to study results presented last year at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer, the statistics point to important gender inequality present within the U.S. healthcare system. While women are entering the scientific and medical fields at an increasing rate, it must be noted that research is still primarily spearheaded and funded by men.

Pancreatic Cancer

This cancer, which affects the pancreas, has a relative five-year survival rate of 50 percent. The five-year survival rate, however, is entirely dependent on the detected cancer’s stage. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer symptoms are often undetectable or not particularly noticeable until the disease has progressed significantly. The disease represents approximately 3 percent of cancer cases and 7 percent of cancer deaths in the United States.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. Smokers have a higher risk of getting lung cancer, as do African American men — whose risk is 20 percent higher than Caucasian men. Older adults are more likely to develop the disease.

Gallbladder Cancer

Gallbladder cancer is another disease that’s not often diagnosed until it’s in the later stages. Only 1 in 5 cases of gallbladder cancer are caught early. Symptoms are not usually noticeable until the cancer has metastasized.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth deadliest women’s cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s also one of the most lethal gynecological cancers. It’s another cancer that’s difficult to detect thanks to its vague symptoms — bloating and feelings of fullness — which are often mistaken for other ailments (e.g., indigestion). The cancer is typically detected once it’s already spread to other parts of the body; once this has occurred, treatment becomes difficult, and survival rates drop. While women of any age can develop ovarian cancer, it’s more likely in women over 40. Risk also increases in women with a family history of the disease.

Written by: Steph Coelho

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