Skip to Content


Landmark Gift Bolsters Prevention Efforts

CancerWise - December 2008

By Dawn Dorsey

The Dan L. Duncan Family Foundation has given M. D. Anderson $35 million, the institution’s largest gift to the cancer prevention program and the second-largest gift in its 67-year history. The funds will be used to establish the Dan Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment.

“The Duncan family is proud of its long-standing relationship with M. D. Anderson, which is recognized the world over for its groundbreaking achievements in the fight against cancer,” Dan Duncan says. “With these additional resources, the doctors, researchers, administrators and employees of M. D. Anderson are poised to extend the institution’s tradition of innovative advances to the field of prevention, and hopefully sparing future generations the ordeal of cancer treatment.”

Prevention is focus

Jan and Dan Duncan

Establishment of the Duncan Family Institute will enable M. D. Anderson to study more fully the incidence and possible causes of cancer in medically underserved and minority communities, specifically cancer-related behavioral and genetic risk factors. Research at the institute will provide valuable data to develop better cancer prevention strategies and ultimately reduce cancer-related deaths in this rapidly growing segment of the population.

The gift also will allow M. D. Anderson to recruit researchers and clinicians to implement new programs and enhance current ones, as well as examine the effects of behavior and lifestyle choices on the development of cancer.

Under the direction of Ernest Hawk, M.D., vice president for prevention and head of M. D. Anderson’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, the institute will bring together research and experts from many disciplines, including epidemiology, behavioral science, biochemistry, molecular biology, computer and information science, clinical science and others to leverage and amplify the discoveries of each investigator and laboratory. The institute will collaborate with Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital and other institutions in related research.

Prevention offers promise

The Duncans feel strongly about the importance of cancer prevention. They have seen the impact prevention has made on so many and are particularly intrigued by the tremendous promise of a positive impact on the future.

“God has blessed us in many ways and in doing so has charged us with the responsibility of using the gifts He has given us to help others,” Jan Duncan says. “I can think of no greater joy than to be a part of preventing the pain and emotional, financial and physical challenges of this horrible disease.”

The Duncans believe prevention efforts in underserved and minority population groups are vitally important to the future of the country and of cancer prevention.

“As a community and a country, we’re becoming more culturally, demographically and economically diverse. This new institute will be a valuable resource for meeting the needs of our changing population through better recognition of cancer risks and more effective preventative measures,” Jan Duncan says.

Family has felt pain of cancer

Prevention is especially important to the Duncan family because they have experienced on a personal level the devastating effects of cancer.

“It’s not an overstatement to say that each of us has been affected by cancer in some way. The Duncan family is no exception,” Jan Duncan says.

Dan Duncan lost his father to leukemia, and that experience was the beginning of his association with M. D. Anderson, where his father was treated. Duncan himself is a prostate cancer survivor and has lost two wives to cancer.

Jan Duncan also has lost family members, including her grandmother and aunt, to cancer. 

“The Duncan family’s personal experience with the disease has inspired us to make medical research, treatment and prevention key components of our philanthropic endeavors,” she says.

Private funding is crucial

In the current flat climate of federal funding, philanthropic gifts are increasingly important to bridge the gap between grants and provide the seed money necessary to successfully compete for federal funding for underserved populations, Hawk says.

“Even though cancer prevention is considered important by most people, it’s typically not considered urgent when put against other lists of priorities at the national, local or state level,” Hawk says. “Gifts like this generous one from the Duncans are absolutely critical to cancer prevention.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center