February 4 was World Cancer Day, and while there have been dramatic advancements in detecting and treating the disease, a cure is still elusive. Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
It was responsible for nearly 10 million fatalities in 2018 alone. Cancer happens when normal cells grow abnormally and form a tumor–in the case of cancers of the blood, an unusual number of white blood cells develop. Rather than one single disease, cancer is an umbrella term used to describe more than 200 diseases.
Last year saw significant momentum in several hot areas of cancer research, including immunotherapy, which harnesses the body’s self-defense system to attack the disease, and precision medicine. Also last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 18 new cancer therapeutics and expanded the use of 10 previously approved treatments to include new types of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “the death rate from cancer in the US has declined steadily over the past two decades.” Still, more than 600,000 Americans died of cancer in 2018.
Cancer continues to inflict a massive toll on societies around the world, and remains a top cause for foundations and philanthropists who are coming at this challenge from a range of angles. This private grantmaking has become more important, given the flatlining of federal research investments, a circumstance that has limited the ability of scientists to conduct research that advances the screening, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.