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The Future of Cancer Research Depends on Federal Funding

When I began my oncology career nearly 30 years ago, the possibility of conquering cancer would have seemed an implausible pipe dream. Now, with the tremendous progress being made in understanding and treating cancer, I believe that dream is firmly within our grasp.

Nearly every American is affected in some way by cancer, and many of us know first-hand how a cancer diagnosis can disrupt the lives of patients and their families. As a surgical oncologist, cancer researcher, and the President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), I’m honored to have a front row seat in today’s cancer revolution and to directly contribute — in a role that is amplified by the strength of ASCO’s oncologists and the patients that we serve — to advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Providing hope​​​​​​​

During my career, I have seen how cancer research can help patients live longer with better quality of life, and how many patients can be cured. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has an essential role in this progress, with federal research unlocking answers to questions about preventing cancer or identifying treatments that cause the fewest side effects. Research supported by NCI has spurred innovation, including most recently the first immunotherapies for cancer. This new treatment approach has produced dramatic improvement in outcomes for some patients with previously difficult-to-treat cancers. We are driven by this success to further unlock the secrets that will make this result achievable for all patients with cancer.

The need for funding

With all this good news, it’s hard to see 88% of qualified research go unfunded. I’m thankful that Congress has marshalled bipartisan support for the NCI, providing funding increases that aim to reverse nearly a decade of flat funding. However, even with these recent investments, the decline in purchasing power means that NCI can fund only 12% of qualified research applications. That is less than half of the 27% of research proposals funded in 2003. And support for our publicly funded National Clinical Trial Network continues to decline in real dollars. 

For some of my patients, a clinical trial is the best option. We need to make it easier for patients to participate in important research that not only affords them state of the art cancer treatment, but also helps others who face a cancer diagnosis. I believe in the promise of tomorrow and the discoveries that will expand our understanding of how best to prevent, treat, and ultimately conquer cancer. That is why I know we need a renewed national commitment to federally funded cancer research. 

Monica Bertagnolli, MD, FASCO, President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, [email protected]

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