Lung cancer is the deadliest but least researched cancer; do funders consider it self-inflicted? An important question for Ky.

Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined, and yet it is the least researched, which could be because funders perceive it is a self-inflicted disease and therefore less worthy of their funding, Paul Karon reports for Inside Philanthropy.

“True, people shouldn’t smoke, but any blame or stigma attached to lung cancer needs to disappear, as oncologists and funders point out, before research can advance commensurate with other cancer research,” Karon writes.

Kentucky leads the nation in both lung cancer and the rate of deaths from it, with a 92.4 per 100,000 incidence rate and a 68.8 per 100,000 death rate. The national rates are 60.4 and 45, respectively, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annually, lung cancer is responsible for 160,000 deaths in the U.S. and causes more deaths in the U.S. and globally than any other cancer, according to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America.

Graph from Lung Cancer Foundation of America

But in 2012, according to the LCFA website, “federal funding for lung cancer was less than one-fourth of that for breast cancer, even though lung cancer kills four times as many Americans,” Karon writes. “Lung cancer funding was close to two-thirds of the funding levels for prostate and colon cancer, again despite being responsible for several times as many deaths as either of those diseases.”

Karon suggests this could be because most lung cancer occurs in current and former cigarette smokers, who are often blamed for their disease and thus deemed less deserving of public and private funding.

About 15 percent of new lung cancer cases are in people who never smoked. Current smokers make up 35 percent and former smokers 50 percent, says the LCFA website.

Karon notes a few groups that contribute to lung cancer research: The Lung Cancer Research Foundation, which recently announced $2.1 million in grants for 2015 and has funded over $5 million total since 2007; The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, which has raised $25 million since its establishment almost 10 years ago; and LFCA, which has funded nearly $600,000 in grants since 2007, in partnership with the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer.

But, he says this still doesn’t come near the research funding awarded to other cancers, which creates a vicious cycle because researchers follow the funding.

“Medical research is not a zero-sum game,” Karon writes. “Study of lung cancer could very well yield important knowledge about genetics, immunology and biology that can be applied not just to for the benefit of the millions of patients and families affected by lung cancer, but for the millions more suffering from all forms of cancer.”

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