Mary Woodard Lasker, a philanthropist whose money and influence helped push the federal government into vastly expanded research of cancer and other diseases, died Monday of pneumonia. She was 93.

In the 1940s, when the word "cancer" was so dreaded that it was seldom uttered outside family circles, she helped convince the Radio Corporation of America that the disease could be mentioned by name on the air.

At a time when medical research was largely funded by private foundations, she helped convince Congress that the federal government was the only source with enough money to finance it adequately.

Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine, once called her "a matchmaker between science and society."

Her work nurtured the National Institutes of Health and led to the creation of national institutes for the study of cancer, heart disease, arthritis and mental health.

She also encouraged researchers with annual awards that came to be regarded as the U.S. version of Nobel Prizes.

Lasker was a familiar figure in the nation's capital, where she lobbied for decades on Capitol Hill and at the White House for money to cure various diseases. Her work on behalf of cancer research, begun with the fortune of her husband, New York advertising executive Albert Lasker, culminated in a 1971 law that funded the federal "war on cancer."

Under her prodding, funding for the National Institutes of Health, once a modest collection of laboratories, ballooned from $2.4 million in 1945 to $5.5 billion in 1986.

She also left her mark on Washington in a way that blooms spectacularly every spring. She helped pay for the planting of a million daffodil bulbs along the city's parkways as part of Lady Bird Johnson's beautification program.

But her main philanthropic interest was medical research. She remembered her own sickly childhood in Watertown, Wis., the early fatal illnesses of her parents and the virulent flu epidemic that struck her and her college classmates.

"I'm infuriated when I hear that anyone's ill, especially when it's from a disease that virtually nothing is known about," she once said.

She said individual research efforts often went unrecognized, and she created the Albert Lasker Medical Research Awards. Given annually by the foundation created by her and her husband, they are coveted medical honors. Fifty-one Lasker Award winners have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes. In 1986, the foundation listed assets of $4.3 million.

Lasker was an energetic lobbyist on the Hill. Vincent DeVita, an oncologist who formerly headed the National Cancer Institute, said that before a stroke slowed down Lasker in 1981, he could "barely keep up" with her as they made the rounds of congressional offices. "At the end of the day, I would be exhausted," he recalled yesterday.

Lasker "had a logic about her" that often won over those who questioned whether cures for disease could be achieved quickly, DeVita said. "She felt people were suffering, and she wanted research to get on as fast as it could." She also built an organization that helped draw congressional attention to the need for research into AIDS, endocrine diseases and growth disorders.

After attending the University of Wisconsin, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College with a degree in art appreciation and history. She married art gallery owner Paul Reinhardt in 1926 and worked as an art dealer. They later divorced.

In 1940, she married Albert Davis Lasker, a successful New York advertising man. When he retired two years later, Mary Lasker persuaded him to use his promotional genius and his money to work on public health issues. They pumped money and energy into the fund-raising efforts of what was to become the American Cancer Society and set about to raise America's consciousness about the disease.

The Laskers convinced David Sarnoff, then head of RCA, that the word cancer could be said on the radio. They also persuaded the Reader's Digest to publish a series of articles about cancer, which ended with a plea for research contributions.

The Lasker Foundation began to seek out causes that were neglected by larger funding institutions. The couple also amassed an important collection of art that included paintings by Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and Chagall. Many were later sold to help fund philanthropic projects.

After Albert Lasker's death in 1952 from colon cancer, Mary Lasker formed the National Health Education Committee, which published semiannual fact books on killing and crippling diseases.

Her proposal for an independent national cancer authority was opposed initially by many prominent scientists who said it would drain money from other medical causes. They said a "war" on cancer would be premature, given the relative lack of knowledge about the disease.

But Congress passed the legislation after she and her circle of influential friends lobbied furiously for it. President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971.

Lasker received dozens of honorary degrees and awards, including the Medal of Freedom, the highest U.S. civilian award.

She died at her home in Greenwich, Conn., a family member said.

Lasker, who had no children, is survived by two stepchildren, Francis Brody and Edward Lasker, both of Los Angeles; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.