Former NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins announces prostate cancer diagnosis

Photo by Marion Meakem Photography for the Prevent Cancer Foundation

During remarks yesterday at a reception from the Prevent Cancer Foundation, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., announced his recent prostate cancer diagnosis. Dr. Collins, a former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was honored at the reception for his leadership of the Human Genome Project, the global project that led to the first sequence of the human genome. Dr. Collins and his colleagues identified genes associated with diseases, allowing for earlier diagnoses. The event was hosted by the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Congressional Families Program to recognize the inaugural National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month.

It was during his acceptance of the Carolyn “Bo” Aldigé Visionary Award for his landmark discoveries that Dr. Collins revealed his own cancer diagnosis. Dr. Collins noted he is sharing his unique situation—in which the research he devoted his career to is now guiding him through diagnosis and treatment—to educate others about the importance of early detection. “I served medical research. Now it’s serving me. And I don’t want to waste time,” he said.

Dr. Collins was the longest serving presidentially-appointed director of the NIH, having served three U.S. presidents more than 12 years. He worked closely with then Vice President Biden to launch the Cancer Moonshot Initiative to fuel innovation and speed new treatments to reduce cancer incidence and improve patient outcomes.

“Dr. Collins has done groundbreaking scientific work and has made an impact that no one working in the cancer field takes for granted,” said Jody Hoyos, CEO of the Prevent Cancer Foundation. “We are grateful to him and his family for sharing his diagnosis as a way to help so many others. All of us at the Prevent Cancer Foundation wish Dr. Collins a swift recovery and all the best during treatment.”

Prostate cancer diagnoses like Dr. Collins’ are becoming far too common among men worldwide—a recent study predicted prostate cancer cases will double by 2040. Early Detection = Better Outcomes, and Dr. Collins noted that it was thanks to an early diagnosis and active surveillance that his medical team was able to quickly identify when his prostate cancer grew and became more aggressive, so they can treat it before it spreads. Here’s what you need to know about screening and treatment options, when to start discussions with your health care provider and what factors may increase your risk:

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is cancer of the prostate gland. Most prostate cancers are diagnosed in those who are older than 65, and for prostate cancers that haven’t begun to spread, the five-year survival rate is close to 100%. There are usually no symptoms of prostate cancer in the early stages. Some people experience symptoms that can include urinary problems or pain.

Who should be screened?

Those with a prostate gland and who are at average risk should start talking to a health care provider at age 50 about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening. That talk might need to happen earlier for people with risk factors, such as having a relative who had prostate cancer, or for Black people. The incidence of prostate cancer is more than 70% higher in Black men than in white men for reasons that remain unclear.

Early detection of prostate cancer followed by prompt treatment saves lives; however, some people are treated for prostate cancers that will never cause them harm, and they must live with any side effects or complications of the treatment. Talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening for you.

For the full list of symptoms, risk factors and recommendations, visit