Although cancer has plagued the world for centuries, it was not until the early 1900s that people came together to create prominent cancer advocacy associations worldwide and to develop national cancer legislation in the United States. In March of 1930, the Senate Commerce Committee heard the testimony of leading cancer researchers, advocates, and other cancer specialists. They told stories of cancer incidence in the United States, explained possible cures, and expressed the need for a national clinic. Since then, multiple legislative acts and amendments have broadened the role of NCI in supporting and improving cancer research.

National Cancer Institute, 2015
alec stone
Alec Stone MA, MPA, ONS Public Affairs Director

Once considered a death sentence, a cancer diagnosis was distressing and difficult on many levels. However, for the past 50 years the United States has been committed to finding treatments and cures for cancer; we have turned a corner, reversing devastating trends and changing the prognosis to one of survivorship for many.

Congressional investment in biomedical research, especially at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and dynamic approaches to patient-centered care like precision oncology have provided an understanding previously unimaginable. And the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has expanded the research and science needed to find achievable advancements in shorter timeframes.

“Today’s investments lay the foundation for tomorrow’s breakthroughs, just as today’s advancements were built on earlier discoveries made since the National Cancer Act was signed into law. We must intensify our pursuit of better outcomes for patients and their loved ones. We owe them nothing less,” Acting NCI Director Doug Lowy, MD, said.

Funding for Progress

As part of the process across all federal agencies, NCI has updated its Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for 2021, providing the U.S. Congress budgetary committee with insight into how the institute is strategically targeting research dollars to fight cancer, including policies from basic research to survivorship. With federal funding from the Cancer Moonshot program, the presidential proclamation for investment of $50 million into the Childhood Cancer Data Initiative, and continued allocation from the 21st Century Cures Act, NCI has substantial opportunity to reach many of its long-term goals.

The annual plan and budget has six priority areas:

  • Understanding the mechanisms of cancer: Enable researchers to have a comprehensive understanding of cancer biology that catalyzes the development of new ways to prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer with an allocation of $115 million.
  • Preventing cancer: Prevent more cancers because a person’s cancer risk will be known and reduced effectively for $180 million.
  • Detecting and diagnosing cancer: Reduce cancer death rates because the disease and its precursors can be detected and diagnosed at the earliest possible stage with $105 million.
  • Treating cancer: Provide all patients with cancer with safe and effective treatments for a $180 million allocation.
  • Advancing public health in cancer: Allow all populations to benefit equally from advancements in cancer research with $65 million in funding.
  • Strengthening the cancer research enterprise: Offer training and infrastructure for cutting-edge research to succeed from an appropriated $30 million.

With incidence and mortality rates falling, early diagnosis and treatment interventions increasing, and better research into how cancers develop, all because of the institute’s research grants, NCI is the leading source of long-term strategic planning in how to confront prevention and survivorship. However, even NCI recognizes that some populations are in need of more focused support.

“More research is needed to better understand and mitigate the effects of both biological and nonbiological factors that contribute to cancer disparities,” NCI said in the budget plan, and internal operations are seeking to better serve those groups.

Earlier in 2019, in support of NCI’s priorities, the U.S. House of Representatives considered the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies appropriations bill, with $41 billion in NIH allocations. In that legislation, NIH would receive an increase of $2 billion above the 2019 enacted level, HIV/AIDS research would get $3.2 billion, and the All of Us precision medicine research initiative would receive $500 million—reflecting the commitment Congress has to continue NCI’s extraordinary advancements.

A Commitment to Excellence

According to NCI’s annual budget plan, policy leaders and decision makers understand the potential for fighting cancer. “Strong congressional support led to the nearly 20% increase in NCI’s budget . . . that would fuel more discoveries, enable more innovative minds to focus on cancer, and provide more opportunities to translate knowledge into better ways to prevent, detect, and treat. Early-stage investigators will continue to be a high priority.”

NCI’s mission is to “provide for, foster, and aid in coordinating research relating to cancer.” Today, as in 1937 when the institute was established, the investment continues and advancements are in reach. However, support is necessary and advocacy must remain constant. ONS is a full partner with the cancer community in calling for complete funding of NCI’s research. Together we will make a real difference in survivorship.