Find someone diagnosed with cancer, and they will have likely been treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or by having the tumor surgically removed. Treatment is hardly enjoyable, but it is usually quite effective. With so many success stories from survivors, it may be tempting to ask why continuing to fund cancer research is necessary.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease. This mystery disease has been peaking researchers’ curiosity since before America gained independence. Up until the mid-twentieth century, research efforts were heavily focused on treating cancer after diagnosis. In the second half of the century, researchers began discovering causes of cancer, including tobacco, specific genetic mutations, and the human papillomavirus. Each of these ground-breaking discoveries were preceded with hundreds of smaller steps in the right direction. Each began with an idea that required testing.
What Are Researchers Currently Working Towards?
In a nutshell, researchers across the globe are dedicated to understanding more about what causes cancer, who gets it, and why. There are many pathways in which cancer can be treated but learning more about how it develops will ultimately help medical professionals stop the disease before it even develops. For example, researchers have known for a long time that diet and exercise have a great impact on one’s risk of cancer. Despite knowing that there is a correlation, it has yet to be proven how these lifestyle choices relate to cancer. The more researchers investigate ways in which cancer comes to be, the more likely prevention, detection, and treatment options will improve.
Recently, research has shifted from treating cancer by location to treating cancer by genetic mutation—an approach in which the National Foundation for Cancer Research was one of the first foundations to embrace. This groundbreaking movement aims to personalize treatment options for patients using precision medicine. Precision medicine will allow for earlier detection of mutations, allowing some cancers to be treated sooner or even prevented altogether. Some researchers, such as NFCR-fellow Wei Zhang Ph.D., have dedicated their entire career to the development of precision medicines. Like most areas of cancer research, precision medicine will require a significant amount of time and effort to become mainstream protocol. Once it does, however, patients will have the opportunity to be treated before experiencing any symptoms due to the reduced time and cost associated with precision medicine.
How to Choose an Organization
Understanding the need for cancer research is a great first step and much easier than the next step – deciding which organization to support. There are dozens of reported cancer charities in the USA alone. In determining a charity’s worth and impact, people often talk about the overhead. This refers to how much money goes towards administrative expenses instead of beneficiaries. At first glance, low overhead costs appear to be directly correlated with how much good a charity actually does. However, this focus on a charity’s overhead costs can actually be destructive. In efforts to appeal to the low-overhead cost agenda, many charities try to cut costs on staff. By doing this, employees are more susceptible to burnout and are often underqualified. Overhead costs can also be reduced by cutting expenses in training, planning, evaluating, and internal systems, causing charities to be less effective.
A charity’s true value – the amount of good it does – is surprisingly difficult to measure. There are a number of websites, such as Charity Watch, that have designed an algorithm to determine how much good is being done by each charity. Some of these websites are designed to reflect public opinion while others rely on the guidance of industry experts. These sites are a great starting point but, to really know the worth of a charity, donors should investigate the organization up close. Visiting the website, discovering the mission, and reading through the annual report can help donors decide if they are inspired by the organization. Most charities are also happy to accept inquires discussing their work and goals.
What Makes NFCR Different?
With so many organizations dedicating to cancer research, it can be hard to decide which type of cancer needs more funding. Luckily, the National Foundation for Cancer Research makes it easy. NFCR has a lengthy track record and commitment to fighting all cancers on all fronts. We believe that funding should go to all types of cancers to combat the disease from all directions. NFCR funds the world’s most renowned researchers that are working in all areas from prevention to treatment. Donations to NFCR are invested in high-risk/high-reward research to accelerate basic research and continue to support breakthroughs through its translational phase, where it can then make real impact on patients.