Four types of cancer cause nearly half of Canadian cancer deaths, yet receive only 15 per cent of research funding and less than two per cent of charity funding, a new report finds.

Charity Intelligence Canada, a non-profit that analyzes charities, finds that four cancers -- pancreatic, stomach, lung and colorectal cancers – wreak a huge toll on Canadian lives but don't get much in the way of support from charity donors.

The report found that in terms of potential years of life lost, these four cancers receive $63 in research funding and less than $5 in charity funding for every year of life they take.

Breast cancer, by contrast, receives a staggering $575 in research funding and $691 in charity funding per potential year of life lost to the disease. (The figures exclude funding to general cancer research or charities.)

In other words, Canadians donate 151 times more to breast-cancer-specific charities than to four of the deadliest cancers combined, based on the years of life each cancer robs from Canadians.

The report authors say that the wide discrepancies in funding seem to have more to do with how many people acquire certain forms of cancer and survive them, but not enough to do with how many people cancer kills.

Karen Greve Young, the report's co-author, says breast cancer has now become a success story. Thanks to advances in prevention, screening and treatment, 89 per cent of breast cancer patients survive the disease for five years or more.

"Pancreatic, stomach, lung and colorectal cancers need a success story," she says in a news release.

Charity Intelligence Canada report encourages Canadians to think strategically about how their donations can best change "the cancer landscape," rather than hoping for a "cure."

"Scientists don't talk about cures," says Young. "The real hope in cancer is to transform it from a disease Canadians die from to one they prevent or live with as a chronic condition."

The group says the four most underfunded cancers it identified "represent an opportunity for donors to make real impact."

Pancreatic cancer, for example, causes five per cent of cancer-related deaths, yet receives only 0.8 per cent of cancer-specific research funding, and 0.1 per cent of cancer donations.

"This gap between lives lost and funding presents an enormous opportunity for donors to save and improve lives," the report says.

Breast cancer -- the most funded cancer, receiving 28 per cent of all Canadian cancer funding -- offers donors little opportunity for impact, by contrast, because there are so many other donors and because so many advances in treatment have already been made.

Charity Intelligence notes there are more than 200 forms of cancer, but the 10 forms that represent 70 per cent of Canadian cancer cases, deaths, potential years of life lost, and prevalence include:

  • lung
  • colorectal
  • breast
  • pancreatic
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • brain
  • leukemia
  • prostate
  • ovarian
  • stomach cancers

It also includes sarcoma, because it was the form of cancer that affected Terry Fox, who changed the face of cancer charity donations forever.

"Sarcoma’s impact on Canadian cancer research and philanthropy has far surpassed its low incidence, because of the inspiring dream of one young patient," the report notes.