How the Government Funds Cancer Research

Updated April 27, 2018

Cancer research not only addresses causes of the disease but also works to develop plans for prevention, treatments, and ultimately, a cure. Congress appropriates funding for research and prevention by allocating money to agencies focused on health and safety, but cuts in federal funding have hurt cancer research in recent years according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

National Cancer Institute

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). It was established as the United States' main agency for cancer research, and its funding supports study into the more than 100 types of cancer.


Most cancer research is funded federally through the NCI, which has an annual budget of approximately five billion dollars. NCI receives its money from the U.S. Congress. These funds support research at the Institute's headquarters in Maryland and in labs and medical centers throughout the U.S. and in other countries. Most financial support given by the NCI is in the forms of free federal grants. About 40 percent of NCI's annual budget is allocated directly to research project grants.

For the past several years, Congress has increased its financial commitment to the fight against cancer but many feel that federal funding for cancer research through the NIH and other programs is not enough. Over the 2016 fiscal year, funding for cancer research through NCI has increased by only five percent.

Areas of Study

The grants fund experiments and laboratory overhead and often cover salaries of scientists and investigators.The NCI researches the following aspects of cancer, particularly concerning rare cancers and interventions not of interest to the public sector:

  • Causes
  • Prevention
  • Detection
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment


The Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works closely with national organizations, state health agencies, and other key groups. Its aim is to develop, implement, and promote effective cancer prevention and control practices.


The CDC receives federal funding and dispenses about three hundred fifty thousand dollars annually to their Division of Cancer Prevention and Control (DCPC). Just over two hundred thousand of those dollars are assigned to research and prevention programs for breast and cervical cancers.

Areas of Study

The DCPC supports research services for other cancers through:

  • A data collection source called the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR), where national information on location, occurrence, and types of cancers is shared
  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (NCCCP), which assesses the burdens and priorities of cancer nationwide
  • Specific initiatives to increase knowledge of cancers like lung, colorectal, and gynecologic types

Department of Defense

While the Department of Defense (DoD) research is largely intended to support military personnel with cancer, their efforts translate to helping the entire American public. A large portion of this organizations medical budget goes to cancer research.


The DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program manages nearly 12 billion dollars in federal research funding. Of this money, almost half supports cancer research specifically.

Areas of Study

Some of this money is used for research related to specific cancers like ovarian, kidney, and lung cancers in addition to those listed.

  • Prostate Cancer Research: The Prostate Cancer Research Program looks to differentiate between aggressive and non-aggressive types of prostate cancer during initial diagnoses and develop interventions for treatment and overall health of those diagnosed. Their congressional funding amounts to about 90 million dollars.
  • Breast Cancer Research: A main focus of the Breast Cancer Research Program is to encourage innovation, creativity, and collaborations for initiatives that will see high impacts. Their budget from congressional funds equates to about three and a half billion dollars.

National Collaboration for a Cure

Cancer prevention and treatment are of national concern, which is why the U.S. government spends billions of dollars each year supporting research. Together with other national groups, the hope is to exploit every resource until a cure is found.

How the Government Funds Cancer Research