This article was originally published at 4:24 pm on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Kathryn Roethel of the San Francisco Chronicle
When it comes to U.S. cancer research funding, deadly disease doesn't always translate into dollars. Lung cancer - the nation's top cancer killer - ranks near the bottom by many measures of funding.
Lung cancer's five-year survival rates have hovered around 15 percent for the past four decades, while survival rates for most other cancers have climbed. Ninety-nine percent of prostate cancer patients and 89 percent of breast cancer patients now live at least five years past diagnosis. Lung cancer symptoms are vague and there isn't a screening approved for the general population, so doctors often discover lung cancer in advanced stages.
Last year, the National Cancer Institute, a division of the government's National Institutes of Health, awarded breast cancer researchers nearly twice as much funding as lung cancer scientists. In the ratio of research dollars to deaths for the 10 most common types of cancer, lung cancer ranks near the bottom of the list.
One problem, according to Dr. Heather Wakelee, a thoracic oncologist at the Stanford Cancer Institute, is that most people view lung cancer as a smoker's disease that could have been prevented.
While a majority of U.S. lung cancer patients are current or former smokers, about 20 percent of women and 10 percent of men with lung cancer never smoked. If only nonsmokers' deaths were counted, lung cancer would still rank in the top 10 deadliest types of the disease. The promising news, Wakelee said, is tumors often mutate differently in nonsmokers, and new drugs are being developed to target those mutations and increase survival rates.
Here's a look at lung cancer funding, by the numbers.
The number of Americans projected to die of lung cancer in 2013. Lung cancer kills about four times more people than breast cancer and three times more than colorectal cancer, the second leading cancer killer.
The amount of research dollars lung cancer received from the National Cancer Institute in 2012, making it second to breast cancer in federal funding. Breast cancer researchers received nearly twice as much.
When the amount of NCI lung cancer research funding is divided by the number lung cancer deaths, it equates to about $2,000 for each person who died last year. For breast cancer, it's more than $15,000 per death. It's about $9,000 for each prostate cancer death, and $5,000 for each colon cancer death.
The percentage of Americans with lung cancer who have never smoked, according to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America. Forty-five percent are former smokers, and the remaining 40 percent currently smoke.