Thursday, January 24, 2013

FMB: Cancer Foundations

You know what makes me steam at the ears?  The phrase "a cure for cancer". There is not *A* cure for cancer, because there is not ONE cancer. Even a recurrence often has a different mutation set. You might as well say "a cure for America's schools." Sure, all several thousand independently governed, wildly differing districts: they can all be fixed exactly the same way. 

 I'm feeling belligerent, so I'm also going to tell you that I think it's a terrible idea to give money to cancer foundations in the hopes that they will find 'a cure for (X) cancer'.  If I had enough time I'd direct you to the Pancreatic Cancer Foundation's annual funding summary, the NIH's Orphan Diseases program, the Gates Foundation's initiatives for real translational research, and so on. But I have five minutes.  So.

Cancer foundations do many effective things: they promote screening (of variable effectiveness, mind you), they give money to help out patients, and they even fund a little research.  Do you know how much research costs?  One year of a postdoc's grant runs about $45,000 in salary, $8000 in health insurance, up to 100% overhead (let's say 50%, so $23,000) and usually a materials grant of up to half the salary ($22,000).  So $100,000 will buy you one year of a postdoc doing research, and most papers take a couple years of work to come out (and a lot more than that in materials and equipment costs).  $300,000 will buy you one paper, and the chances of that leading to a disease treatment are - let's be generous! - 1 in 1000.

Dr. S has a grant from a cancer foundation.  Chances of his work leading to a disease treatment in 10 years or less?  0%.  Believe me: I know exactly what he does, and none of his Things are drug targets.  Or gene therapy targets.  It might, one day, improve testing efficiency in predicting the success of treating a non-cancer-related condition.  That's it.

I don't ever give money to cancer foundations, because if I want to help someone whose family is struggling with cancer, I'll give them a gift card, or a dinner, or some babysitting.  The cancer foundations are throwing pennies in the well and wishing, when it comes to research. 


  1. Not to mention, certain cancer foundations do lots of fundraising over the phone. (A most expensive way to raise funds, therefore less money going to REAL good works.) I never give money over the phone, and always look up my charities to make sure the vast majority of the money goes to benefit people, not administrators.

  2. Anonymous3:20 PM

    I guess the only thing I'd add is that when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer I was grateful for the existence of a large organization that had information and...uh...***organization***. Sometimes what you need is not a dinner or anything a PERSON can offer, sometimes you need resources that come in an impersonal form.

    1. Indeed! I think they should exist, and they have helped many of MY relatives as well. I just don't think people should suffer under the delusion that the ACS is going to cure cancer. Like, ever.


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