The federal government plays an essential role in funding medical research in the United States, primarily through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). With a current budget of $29.9 billion, funding levels at NIH have been stagnant since 2003 (and have actually dropped by 22 percent, after adjusting for inflation). Cancer funding as a share of the overall NIH budget has also declined— but scientific and public health needs continue to rise.

The problem and the solution

While the NIH struggles, nonprofit organizations are playing an increasingly critical role in funding medical research and keeping talented researchers in the field. While nonprofit support has been essential, it has not been able to make up for federal cuts to NIH funding in the last decade.

Increased funding is critical to the future of cancer prevention—to foster the next generation of cancer prevention research, create a strong foundation of preliminary evidence to make scientific advances and provide the necessary support for researchers to move toward independent research careers.

Finding inspiration

Scientists are increasingly recognizing the need to focus on cancer prevention and early detection, in addition to the more traditional research on treatments and cures. Instead of only treating cancer, there are many cases where we will be able to stop it before it starts, through immunizations, medications and screenings like colonoscopies, which enable doctors to detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.

Exciting developments in recent decades include:

  • The HPV Vaccine—this vaccination protects against certain strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes more than 90 percent of anal and cervical cancers and more than 50 percent of vaginal, vulvar and penile cancers.

  • Tamoxifen—this first-ever breast cancer chemopreventive drug was approved by the FDA in 1998 for use in women at high risk for breast cancer.

  • High-quality, low-dose spiral computed tomography (LDCT) lung scans that can detect lung cancer in its early stages, if implemented broadly, are expected to significantly decrease deaths from lung cancer.

How you can contribute:

  • Advocacy: Everyone has an opportunity to make his or her voice heard. Reach out to your members of Congress to encourage bipartisan commitment to providing critical funding for the NIH.

  • Funding: Contribute to nonprofit organizations that can help pick up the slack in funding critical medical research. Look for reputable and credible organizations that invest in high-risk, high-reward projects, which will keep scientists working towards the next breakthrough in cancer research.

Funding for medical research is one of the most important investments our country can make. Funding from federal agencies, generous individuals and nonprofit groups can extend and save people’s lives, provide jobs and fuel our economy.