The Truth About the American Cancer Society…Right Here.

Part IV in a series regarding my investigation into the American Cancer Society and interview with the Chief Medical Officer Dr. Otis Brawley 


When you’re the biggest cancer organization and have a billion dollars a year in revenue, chest thumping shouldn’t be needed. However, the American Cancer Society is right to be defensive about its handling of lung cancer.

Here’s why:

The American Cancer Society has stood by silently for decades as federal funding for lung cancer research was shortchanged year after year after year.

Its persistent references to lung cancer as the only “preventable” cancer reinforced the stigma and justified the underfunding of lung cancer research. Why spend money on research if smoking cessation will end lung cancer?  (ACS CMO Dr. Otis Brawley told me during our two hour phone interview that “Lung cancer is the only cancer I can tell you there is a cause for it.”)

Virtually no mention was made of the tens of thousands of people – men and women – who never smoked who were being diagnosed and dying of lung cancer in increasing numbers.

When lung cancer mortality among women soared past breast cancer mortality in 1987, it blamed the smokers and never mentioned the much higher rate of lung cancer among non-smoking women than non-smoking men. (Again, it’s astounding to me that Dr. Brawley would refer to this as “bad luck.” )

It helped propagate the myth that ten years after smoking cessation lungs go back to normal, leading hundreds of thousands of people – and their primary care doctors – to ignore warning signs that could have led to a CT scan and saved their lives.

ACS’s press office claims that it is currently funding $52 million in 94 grants. But, keep in mind, most of those grants are spread out over four or five years and the $52 million is a total of all funding for the term of the grants, not a snapshot of the current one year funding, which is closer to $12 million, or about 1% of ACS’s income. People think a lot more than that is going to researchers, and a lot more should be.

This is simply not enough when lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality and takes as many lives each year as the next four leading causes (breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers) combined.

For some perspective, in 2009, Lung Cancer Alliance, which operates at a mere fraction of ACS’s budget, was able to secure a new lung cancer research program within the Department of Defense and $48 million in funding over the past three years, with another $10 million pending final approval for this year.

The only way to detect any cancer early enough to prevent death is screening.

In the 70’s, when mammograms began to show potential as a screening tool, ACS leaped in with national pilot screening programs for women around the country. No such enthusiasm has greeted CT screening for lung cancer, even though lung cancer screening can bring about the biggest drop in overall cancer mortality in history.

Over 50% of lung cancer patients are former smokers, and we now have irrefutable proof from the National Lung Screening Trial and other national and international research efforts that tens of thousands of them could be cured – yes, cured – if they are properly screened with CT scans before they have symptoms.

No other cancer screening test carries such enormous potential to reduce deaths and treatment costs – money that could be redirected to more effective cessation programs, more accurate biomarkers and targeted therapies.

Screening can also be the “teachable moment” for the 20-25% of lung cancer patients who have been unable to stop smoking.

There has been little enough compassion coming from ACS for lung cancer patients and their families.

This is not the time for chest thumping and hype. This is the time for an honest re-evaluation.

Another very important FYI: The Lung Cancer Alliance initiated, and has been advocating for, legislation in Congress that will require – for the first time – a comprehensive, coordinated plan of action combining prevention, screening, treatment and research with the specific target of reducing lung cancer mortality by 50% by 2020. This is huge.

A broad, diverse group of national organizations representing women’s health, minorities, veterans and medical centers and public health advocacy organizations have stepped up and publicly backed the proposal.

ACS has not. ‘Nuf said.

  • Sam Qualiki Mendez

     To me it always seemed like ACS’s mission was a little more focused on patient services and education than on research. Do you know how their research spending compares to their program spending? That might be an important factor to consider or at least something to address in your argument above

    • Jennifer Windrum

      Hi Sam. Thanks for your comment.  I am actually working on another blog post that spells out all of the financial info….I will go ahead and give it to you here.  Here are my questions to ACS and ACS’s responses. You can see vast majority of dollars appears to go to research. 

      ACS Revenue/GrantsWhat was ACS’s total revenue for FY10?
      $ 956,159,000. 
      Of all dollars raised, what percentage of the total revenue goes toward overhead, admin costs, salaries.
      Seven percent of total expenses goes to management and general. Additionally, 21% of expenses go to total supporting services, which includes fundraising. That means a total of 28% goes to support services that support all of our life-saving programs, and the remainder, 72% goes to programs to directly fight cancer. 
      What percentage goes toward medical research and programs?
      Of our total expenditures: 

      Research (extramural and intramural): 16% 
      Prevention: programs that provide the public and health professionals with information and education to prevent cancer: 16% 
      Detection/treatment – programs that are directed at finding cancer before it is clinically apparent and that provide information and 
      education about cancer treatments for cure, recurrence, symptom management, and pain control: 13%. 
      Patient support – programs to assist cancer patients and their families and ease the burden of cancer for them: 28% 
      What percentage goes toward lung cancer research solely? 
      For FY 2010 (latest year available), 11.3% of funding of extramural research grants (grants to independent investigators) was spent on studies involving lung cancer. 
      What is Dr. Brawley’s annual salary?
      For 2008 (latest year available, since this comes out in FY 09 IRS forms), Dr. Brawley made 391,215 in base salary, and a total of 416,416 when deferred salary and benefits were added. This is less than cancer center directors who are his peers. Two examples: , Robert Wittes, MD at Memorial Sloan Kettering is listed on Guidestar as making $758,048 in base salary alone, and total compensation of $1.3 million in 2009. According to the Texas Tribune,  the director of the cancer center at UTexas Southwestern, James KV Willson’s salary is $435,000. That does not include clinical revenue (money received for seeing patients). 
      Currently, ACS is funding 933 grants totaling $464 million. Correct? 
      These numbers change due to our ability to fund additional grants, and when researchers discontinue ACS funding when they get grants from other sources, predominantly the NCI. Currently we have 937 grants in effect totalling $465,062,196, which spans multiple years of funding. 
       This is the total of all grants, most of which are multi-year (frequently 5), correct?
      Yes. They are usually 4 years, but can be 2 years, 3 years, or 5 years, as well. 
      So, out of $1.2 billion in revenues each year, ACS is funding about $100 million in research?
      In 2010,  total research expenditures, which includes extramural research grants as well as our own, intramural research, were $148,600,000. Revenue (see above) was $956,159,000. The “about 100 million” you’ve heard refers to the amount spent on extramural research alone, which in 2010 was $122 million. 
      Can you provide me with a detailed accounting of all 94 grants; the principal investigator on each one; the institution; the funding per year and the number of years?
      Here is a detailed list 
      Of the 94 lung cancer specific grants, how many do NOT include smoking cessation/prevention?
      Of the 93 grants currently involving lung cancer, 91 do NOT include smoking cessation/prevention. 

  • Crushingcancer

    How about you start on Susan G Komen and her organization! This organization whom has backings from HUGE corporations and even our national Sports Teams to raise money for Breast cancer research has bigger issues than you think…….DID YOU KNOW that THAT organization spent MILLIONS of that money on suing small little hometown groups including children who used the phrase “for the cure” claiming they coined the phase and it was a copyright issue!! REALLY small kids flying a kite for a cure really needed to be sued with what was suppose to be breast cancer funding research money.  ACS also uses funds to fund outreach groups within the communities to help with transitions and the sturggles cancer brings upon a family. ACS funds groups who transport patients to and from treatments when family is not there or they cant do it. ACS funds look good feel better groups that take women who have lost their hair and supply them with FREE wigs and days at the salon to get the wigs styled and makeup done so they feel better while doing chemo and grasping the baldness of the reality of cancer! Your talking about ONE cancer ACS funds for ALL cancers….I had a friend battling Breast cancer she called SGK asking for help and they replied we dont do that……She called ACS…..they set her up with support groups, wigs, doctors, meals, support, and FRIENDSHIPS to get her through……you tell me whats more important.


  • crushingcancer

    Here is what your donations to ACS go to.
    Thanks in part to the generous contributions to the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, the Society is saving lives by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back. These are just a few examples of how your contributions make a difference in the Society’s lifesaving mission.
    Helping people stay well
    Our telephone counseling service, the American Cancer Society Quitline®, doubles a person’s chances of quitting tobacco for good.We develop guidelines for recommended cancer screenings and nutrition and physical activity, so people know what tests they need to find cancer early and how to help prevent the disease.We provide tips, tools, and online resources to help people set goals and stay motivated to eat healthy and maintain an active lifestyle.
    Helping people get well
    Our phone lines are open every minute of every day and night to help connect people with the answers they need. Each year, we provide information, help, and support to the nearly one million individuals who call us at 1-800-227-2345 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              1-800-227-2345      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. In addition, our Web site,, offers access to the latest information and news on cancer and helps people locate programs and services in their area.We offer an online support community for cancer survivors and caregivers to share stories and find support.We assist cancer patients in need with getting transportation to and from their treatments and offer help with free lodging for cancer patients and their caregivers.Through our clinical trials matching service, we connect patients with thousands of different treatment options.With sites at hospitals and treatment centers across the country, our American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program provides one-on-one guidance to people facing cancer through every step of their journey.
    Finding cures
    We’ve had a hand in nearly every major cancer breakthrough of the last century, including confirming the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, establishing the link between obesity and multiple cancers, developing drugs to treat leukemia and advanced breast cancer, and showing that mammography is the most effective way to detect breast cancer.We’re the largest private funder of cancer research in the United States.We fund researchers with cutting-edge ideas, often early in their careers. Of the researchers chosen for Society funding, 46 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize, the highest honor in scientific achievement.
    Fighting back
    The majority of Americans are now covered by a smoke-free law, thanks in part to the efforts of the Society and our nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).
    • We help mobilize communities to fight back against cancer with events such as Relay For Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer®.We have helped uninsured, underinsured, and low-income women get breast and cervical cancer screening tests and follow-up treatment since 1991 and, along with ACS CAN, we have successfully fought for legislation protecting this care.By supporting Relay For Life, you help make the American Cancer Society’s mission possible, and that helps us all move closer to our ultimate goal: a world with less cancer and more birthdays.
    To learn more about the American Cancer Society please visit

  • Jane Doe

    Unfortunately most of ACS’s revenue does not go to research. It goes to keeping ACS in business. They no longer provide any type of financial assistance to patients – they refer patients who call them to outside agencies who do provide assistance but they call this a “patient service”. They spend a lot of time and money selling the hope of cancer cures but in reality they are not. I prefer to give my money to local groups that I know help local cancer patients.