Doubling Women’s Lung Cancer Research Funding Would Generate Major Returns, Study Says


Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States, yet relatively little research funding is spent on the issue, the authors of a new study say.

Doubling the amount of money spent on researching lung cancer in women could lead to a dramatic return on investment, even when using modest estimates of the improvements such research would generate, according to a new study.

The data come from the advocacy group Women’s Health Access Matters (WHAM), which commissioned the RAND Corp to examine the economic impact of increased lung cancer research. They found that doubling the amount of money devoted to women’s lung cancer research (an investment of $40 million new research dollars) would lead to a 1200% return on investment if mortality and quality of life were improved by a mere 0.1% as a result of the research.

“These findings are stunning,” said Carolee Lee, WHAM’s founder and CEO, in a statement. “Women are sick and dying from a disease that disproportionately affects them, yet research doesn’t acknowledge this fact.”

An estimated 61,000 women in the United States will die of lung cancer in 2022, Lee noted, making lung cancer the top cause of cancer-related death among women in the United States. WHAM noted that more women die from lung cancer than from breast, ovarian, and cervical cancers combined.

The new report used microsimulation analysis to examine the 30-year impact if the National Institutes of Health doubled the amount of research funding going toward researching lung cancer in women. They used a range of metrics to evaluate the economic impacts, including healthcare expenditures, labor productivity of informal caregivers, and quality-adjusted life years.

The RAND investigators concluded that a $40 million surge in funding for women’s lung cancer would lead to $611 million in economic returns, as well as 22,700 additional years of life among the cumulative patient population.

“This research shows that very small investments in women’s health can generate outsized returns, in part because women’s health research is still very much under-funded,” said Lori Frank, PhD, the study’s senior author.

She said the study shows the significant benefits increased funding would have on health and health-related quality of life.

“But it also points to the importance of addressing diseases that hit women harder; equity in medical research leads to meaningful benefits,” she added.

The report also found that the healthcare benefits associated with the increased research could lead to 2,500 more labor years, due to patients living longer and being able to work more. That would translate to $45 million in increased labor productivity, the report found.

In addition to increasing funding for the research of lung cancer in women, the study also suggested that the funding target specific research questions. They said future research should examine how sex and gender affect lung cancer etiology, risk factors, and prevention, and also how such differences translate into different patterns of formal and informal caregiving. They said one key area of focus should be better understanding obstacles that stand in the way of early detection and personalized treatment for women with lung cancer.

“This new data could not be more clear about the economic pain we all pay when women leave the workforce early to manage their own health or serve as caregivers for their loved ones,” Lee said. “Women’s health is an economic issue that impacts everyone, and we can’t afford to ignore it.”

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