Lung cancer

Is lung cancer losing its status as the ‘poor cousin’?

Funding for research into lung cancers has risen sharply in Australia, with five times more studies active in the field than two decades ago, new figures show.

Meanwhile, research funding across all cancer types has increased three-fold since 2003-05, although the increase has been far from even across all tumour types.

The data is from Cancer Australia’s latest funding audit, which also reveals that NSW has become the leading destination for oncology research money, receiving 43% of the total national spend in 2018-20.

This compared with 25% in 2003-05, with every other state and territory’s funding share consistently dwindling since then, according to the agency (link here).

The audit, which involved 124 research organisations, found 4,813 cancer research projects and programs were funded across Australia between 2012 and 2020 costing $2.12 billion in total.

Some $934 million of that was dispersed in 2018-20 alone, a huge increase on the $292 million distributed in 2003-05, it found.

And some of the sharpest increases were in lung cancer, albeit from the low base of just $2.5 million in 2003-05, with just 22 research projects active in the field.

By 2018-20, this figure had risen to $32 million, which was funding 106 projects in total, the audit found.

The proportion of resources being directed to most cancer types changed between 2003-05 and 2018-20 (full details below).

  • Breast cancers: decreased from 30% to 16%
  • Haematological cancers: increased from 17% to 22%
  • Colorectal cancers: decreased from 12% to 8%
  • Genitourinary cancers: decreased from 12% to 7%
  • Skin cancers: stayed at around 10%
  • Gynaecological cancers: increased from 5% to 8%
  • Lung cancers: increased from 2% to 6%
  • Brain and central nervous system cancers: increased from 5% to 7%
  • Head and neck cancers: stayed at around 2%
  • Cancer of unknown primary: increased from 0.1% to 1%
  • Musculo-skeletal cancers: stayed at around 1%

Other key findings were that state and territory governments are becoming increasingly important funders, accounting for 13% of the total spend in 2018-20, compared to just 3% in 2003-05.

The same was true for foundations like the Leukemia Foundation and Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, while medical research institutes and universities also boosted their share of the total spend.

On the other hand, Australian researchers had become far less reliant on contributors overseas to pay for their work, as international contributions fell from $37.6 million in 2003-05 to $25.2 million in 2018-2020, the report found.

The Australian Government was the largest funder of cancer research projects and research programs, providing 58% of the direct funding identified in the audit. Some 88% of cancer research projects and programs were funded by a single identified funding source.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe said the audit would provide an evidence base for improving resource allocation in the future.

“The findings of this new report show us that while there have been significant improvements in diagnosis, treatment and survival for a number of cancer types, there are areas where continued efforts are needed to reduce the impact of cancer in Australia,” she said.

“We know that research, evaluation and the use of data help our health system to meet current and future health challenges for all Australians affected by cancer.”

Around $900,000, or 0.1% of the total research funding pool, came from philanthropy.

Tumour type 2003–2005 2006–2008 2009–2011 2012–2014 2015–2017 2018–2020
Funding $33.4M $57.4M $85.9M $81.7M $81.9M $91.3M
No. projects/
167 309 317 293 332 287
Funding $15.3M $20.8M $39.7M $40.5M $50.5M $67.9M
No. projects/
81 78 141 159 181 180
Funding $1.5M $4.9M $11.3M $20.0M $19.8M $54.1M
No. projects/
10 32 61 81 105 161
Funding $8.5M $19.1M $24.6M $29.2M $41.8M $52.3M
No. projects/
40 55 89 83 101 98
Funding $13.6M $26.7M $47.2M $36.0M $23.7M $43.6M
No. projects/
76 79 120 118 114 141
Funding $13.2M $25.8M $41.6M $28.7M $41.2M $34.2M
No. projects/
82 122 195 126 188 161
Funding $2.2M 7.2$M $11.7M $16.4M $25.4M $31.2M
No. projects/
20 31 42 62 73 84
Lung and mesothelioma
Funding $2.5M $7.8M $16.3M $14.8M $21.1M $30.9M
No. projects/
22 48 78 69 81 102
Funding $0.8M $1.9M $5.3M $5.8M $9.8M $17.0M
No. projects/
7 19 22 18 52 65
Blood (other than myeloma, leukaemia, and lymphoma)
Funding n.d. $0.5M $0.1M $3.1M $7.0M $13.5M
No. projects/
0 2 1 4 6 4
Funding $0.7M $2.9M $3.4M $5.6M $7.3M $15.2M
No. projects/
11 17 20 27 32 36
Funding $1.3M $3.2M $3.0M $2.6M $6.8M $14.7M
No. projects/
12 9 17 15 21 42
Funding $1.1M $2.5M $7.2M $9.0M $7.8M $11.4M
No. projects/
10 15 29 24 28 39
Funding $1.9M $3.9M $4.7M $9.0M $6.7M $10.5M
No. projects/
10 6 16 18 18 27
Funding $1.5M $3.9M $5.6M $5.0M $5.5M $7.2M
No. projects/
8 17 26 18 21 21
Skin (not melanoma)
Funding $1.3M $2.7M $4.8M $5.4M $9.5M $6.3M
No. projects/
13 9 15 33 26 17

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