The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump proposal would slash total cancer funding while boosting pediatric cancer research

Scientists worry that the overall effect could be detrimental.

Cancer survivors, patients, caregivers and physicians gathered in Los Angeles this month for a Cycle for Survival event to raise money for research on rare cancers. (Casey Rodgers/Invision/AP)

The Trump administration’s budget proposes a $50 million increase for pediatric cancer research for the next fiscal year, while cutting overall funding for the National Cancer Institute by almost $900 million.

The budget said the childhood cancer request was the first step in investing $500 million over the next 10 years, something President Trump called for last month in his State of the Union address.

Cancer researchers and advocates said that the net effect of cutting about 14.5 percent from the Cancer Institute’s budget, even while adding the money for pediatric research, would hurt children and adults. They called on Congress to rebuff the cuts — as lawmakers have in the past few years.

“The additional $50 million dedicated to childhood cancer research, while welcome, will not be as effective as possible if overall research funding is significantly reduced,” said Lisa Lacasse, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Childhood cancer research is intertwined with all of cancer research. and cuts to NIH [the National Institutes of Health] and NCI funding will consequently have deleterious effects on such research regardless of age.”

"It’s not realistic to think that $50 million could offset the negative impact of a cut in NCI funding,” said Peter Adamson, chairman of the NCI-funded Children’s Oncology Group. Jon Retzlaff, chief policy officer at the American Association for Cancer Research, called the budget “reckless.”

NCI funding for the current fiscal year is $6.14 billion; that includes $400 million in “cancer moonshot” funding that is slated to decline in coming years. The administration is proposing $5.25 billion in funding for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Despite the budget proposal, cancer funding could rise because of strong support on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after Trump’s State of the Union speech that $500 million over a decade for childhood cancer wasn’t enough.

About 16,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, and about 1,000 die. About 80 percent of all childhood cancer cases are cured. Scientists have made huge progress in improving the survival rate for childhood leukemia, the most common cancer. But survival rates for many other pediatric cancers have not increased, and even children who are cured sometimes suffer lasting effects from treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.

NCI Director Norman “Ned” Sharpless has talked about using the extra pediatric money to launch a major data project on childhood cancer. The effort would collect and make accessible to researchers information from clinical records, tumor mutations, patient outcomes and other data.

Such a project could help researchers and physicians learn, for example, which kind of patients are helped by certain treatments, whether malignancies with particular mutations are best tackled by surgery or chemotherapy, and whether children who developed cancer were exposed to carcinogens.

Nancy Goodman, who founded an advocacy group called Kids v Cancer after her son died of cancer, said that the data project was a “terrific” idea and could be “transformational” if fully funded. But Adamson called for a broad discussion about the best way to spend the pediatric-research money.

Currently, the cancer institute spends about $438 million annual on pediatric cancer research.

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