Cancer

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Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts its own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organizations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

Impact Summary

  • Importance: 5/5
  • Tractability: 3/5
  • Neglectedness: 0.5/5
Learn More

Charity Impact

  • Cost Effectiveness: 2.5/5
  • Robustness of Evidence: 2/5
  • Track Record: 3.5/5
  • Room for More Funding: Yes
Learn More Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Charity Impact

  • Cost Effectiveness: 5/5
  • Robustness of Evidence: 2/5
  • Track Record: 2.5/5
  • Room for More Funding: Yes
Learn More Project Healthy Children

Fast Facts

  • 14 million new cases of cancer are recorded each year, along with 8.24 million deaths.
  • 15% of all deaths are attributable to cancer.
  • The types of cancer with the highest death tolls are lung, liver and stomach cancer.
  • 60% of all cancer cases occur in developing regions, along with 70% of all deaths due to cancer. The number of cancer deaths in is also growing 50% faster in developing countries than in developed countries.

Cancer makes a sizeable contribution to the global disease burden and is therefore a major health challenge. There currently exist a variety of treatment and prevention methods which may alleviate this burden, in addition to conducting further research which might well uncover additional methods.

Although we consider a variety of interventions and funding opportunities in this report, we find that many of them do not provide the opportunity to have a sizeable impact through donations. For instance, cancer research is an extremely crowded area, direct treatment generally has low cost-effectiveness, and prevention methods such as tobacco control are not currently carried out on a large scale by any highly effective charities which also have a large funding gap.

The most promising intervention we have found for the reduction of cancer mortality and morbidity is the implementation of national vitamin A fortification programs. Increasing the vitamin A intake of those who currently have low intake levels, as much of the developing world does, greatly reduces the incidence of stomach cancer - which has the second-highest global death toll of all forms of cancer. We found that donations to charities working on micronutrient fortification may prevent deaths due to stomach cancer at an average cost of roughly $19,100 each, and avert disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) at a rate of $720/DALY (in other words, it costs $720 per year of health), which is more cost-effective than many of the other cancer interventions of which we are currently aware.