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Inclusive Approach

Crowdsourcing Key Cancer Questions

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Young scientists having a discussion in a laboratory setting

Credit: National Cancer Institute, Rhoda Baer (Photographer)

How does aspirin protect against cancer? How does obesity increase the risk of cancer? What genetic, epigenetic, biologic, behavioral, or environmental factors enable some people with highly lethal cancers to survive beyond expectation?

These are just a few perplexing issues that were chosen as part of the Provocative Questions Initiative of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of the 27 Institutes and Centers that make up the NIH [1]. The initiative was launched to identify questions or problems about cancer that, for whatever reason, have been neglected in the past. The hope was that by crowdsourcing across the entire research community, the most important questions would be identified — potentially yielding game-changing advances in preventing, diagnosing, and treating all forms of cancer.

Although cancer rates are declining about 1% per year [2], cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, surpassed only by heart disease. In 2009, 567,614 people died from some form of cancer—1,555 people every day. We’ve been waging war on this disease for decades now. But we now have the tools to address many more questions.