Congressman Payne Presses For More Colorectal Cancer Research

Rep. Payne, Jr. Wants More Support for Research on Colorectal Cancer, 2nd Deadliest Cancer in U.S.

Washington, D.C. — Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. is concerned that colorectal cancer is not receiving the proper attention nationwide for funding and research on treatments.  Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in the number of U.S. cancer deaths every year.

Rep. Payne, Jr. wrote a letter to Dr. Ned Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to request a meeting to understand how the Institute allocates cancer research funding.  Rep Payne, Jr. wants to learn the “key areas of focus for colorectal cancer research funding and plans for future spending.”

“I want to find out if the National Cancer Institute has devoted enough resources to the study of colorectal cancer,” said Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr.  “It is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths nationwide and infection rates are higher in African Americans than any other population group.  In addition, African Americans are being diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a younger age than other groups.  I lost my father, Congressman Donald M. Payne, Sr., to colorectal cancer.  I want to make sure other families do not lose their fathers, friends and family members to this dreaded disease.”

In the letter, Rep. Payne Jr. wrote that an estimated 104,610 cases of colon cancer and 43,340 cases of rectal cancer would be diagnosed this year.  Also, more than 53,000 Americans would die from these cancers in 2020.  This figure does not include the thousands of Americans who could die from colorectal cancer due to a lack of screenings during this coronavirus public health crisis.  Although Congress has increased funding for the NCI in recent years, colorectal cancer research funding has fallen from $256 million to $208 million during that same period.  The letter was co-signed by three additional Congressional members.


The full letter is listed below.


Dr. Ned Sharpless


National Cancer Institute

31 Center Drive, Building 31

Bethesda, MD 20814


Dear Dr. Sharpless:

We are writing to inquire about funding levels for colorectal cancer research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

First and foremost, we want to thank you for all the work you have done to date to advance colorectal cancer research, especially as it relates to advancing clinical trials and survivorship research for colorectal cancer survivors We are also grateful for everything NCI is doing to help our country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including your rapid response to the changing trials landscape, and support of telehealth to sustain the momentum of cancer research. This is critical work that deserves continued support. But as you have pointed out, cancer has not stopped in light of COVID-19 and it is critical that we continue to work towards better prevention, treatment and ultimately cures.

Colorectal cancer is currently the second leading cause of death for men and women combined.  Prior to COVID-19, it was estimated that 104,610 cases of colon cancer and 43,340 cases of rectal cancer would be diagnosed in the United States in 2020, and a total of 53,200 people would die from these cancers[1]. However, as you shared in Science, the delay in screening because of COVID-19 could cause an estimated 10,000 additional deaths from colorectal and breast cancers[2].

It is also important to note that data indicates that those who were born in the 1990s have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer than adults born in the 1950s[3]. Early age onset patients are often diagnosed at a later stage than patients over age 50, when the disease is more challenging to treat.

This is particularly acute in the Black community. According to the American Society for Gastroenterological Endoscopy, the incidence of colorectal cancer is higher among African Americans than any other population group in the United States. Not only is it higher in the African American community, but research also shows that African Americans are being diagnosed at a younger average age than other people[4].

Unfortunately, according to NCI’s website, there has been a decrease in colorectal cancer funding over the past several years, including in FY16 and FY17 when NCI received a significant increase in overall funding.


We are concerned that a cancer that impacts roughly 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women has seen a consistent decrease in federal research funding. While we have made great strides in increasing access to colorectal cancer screening, far too many people are still dying from this disease. We respectfully request a briefing from your team with an overview of how you allocate funds across different cancers, the key areas of focus for colorectal cancer research funding and plans for future spending.

We recognize that you have to address many important priority areas and that has likely been made even more challenging by COVID-19. However, it is important for the colorectal cancer community to get a better sense of how funding decisions are being made.

If you or your staff have any questions, please reach out to Steven Schultz of Congressman Payne’s staff at

Again, thank you for all you do for the cancer community. We look forward to hearing from you.


Donald M. Payne, Jr.                                                            Rodney Davis

Member of Congress                                                            Member of Congress

  1. Donald McEachin                                                            Jamie Raskin

Member of Congress                                                            Member of Congress