Why Research on Cancer Is Critical to Progress Against the Disease

Updated on August 29, 2022

Cancer in America accounted for 599,589 deaths in 2019. In the same year, there were 1,752,735 new cases. These statistics, provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicate that 439 people out of every 100,000 contracted cancer, with 146 of these individuals succumbing to the disease.

Cancer research is aimed at saving lives, preventing incidences of cancer, early detection, and more effective treatments. These objectives will continue to sum up the primary reason for cancer research for the foreseeable future. However, each research team narrows down the purpose of their research so that they can consider an aspect of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment minutely. This makes it possible to conduct clinical studies in specific settings and with set parameters to add to our knowledge of cancer. 

Main Role-Players 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been attributed with providing funding for all the major developments that have been made in cancer research in the last half a century. NCI provides international funding to universities, hospitals, clinics, and cancer centers. NIH received an additional $2.25 billion for cancer research in 2022.

The demand for cancer research funding outstrips the supply. In the 1990s, the NCI was able to approve 28% of acceptable applications. By 2021, this had decreased to 11%. One can imagine how much further cancer research would have taken us last year with another 89% of projects able to be funded. Full-time cancer career researchers are needed. Expertise would be retained and continue to advance.

Public and Community Health

Community healthcare workers should ideally be able to screen all members of their communities for cancer at appropriate stages based on their risk profiles (including family history, population, and contributing lifestyle factors) and genetic testing. For example, women at high risk for breast cancer may need to be tested every six months to ensure timely detection and a cure before the cancer has a chance to metastasize.

When an incident occurs that exposes a community to toxins that cause cancer, research needs to have the data available to enable regulatory agencies to legislate public safety standards. This will prevent other communities and individuals from being similarly affected in the future.

Opportunities and Challenges

Every research study reveals new opportunities that future research can leverage. For example, the SCID rat, or Severe Combined ImmunoDeficiency laboratory rat has taken over from lab mice because its body size allows for easier transplantation of tumors from humans, more tissue material is available for testing, and rats can withstand these experiments better. Additionally, toxicology reporting is preferred using rats so that both uses can be handled with one animal.

Inadequate funding is not the only challenge preventing significant progress in cancer research. As an example, it is extremely difficult when conducting population studies to determine cause and effect, with more than one factor being able to explain associations between the disease and its risk factors, like smoking. Longitudinal studies are needed to observe the same participants over long periods. 

It is more difficult to create a group of participants to study a rare type of cancer. More advanced statistical methods may be required to analyze smaller datasets. Otherwise, a much larger study is needed to be able to conclude causes definitively.

Research remains the key weapon we have in the fight against cancer. 

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