By Scott Meacham
Congressional action is needed to help save lives from cancer.
Editor’s note: This column appeared in the December 12, 2021, editions of The Oklahoman.
Fifty years ago, we declared a war on cancer, setting out an ambitious and worthy goal to defeat this threat. While scientists, researchers, and doctors have developed more effective ways to identify and treat cancer, it continues to afflict and take the lives of far too many.
Cancer remains the second-biggest cause of death in the United States. In Oklahoma alone, the American Cancer Society estimates the scourge will rob us of nearly 9,000 loved ones this year. By December, about 23,000 Oklahomans will have learned for the first time they have the disease.
However, as we mark this 50th anniversary, there is still some cause for hope, as we have made important and noteworthy progress in our quest to defeat cancer. Today, patients with cancer are living longer and generally enjoy a greater quality of life than they did decades ago. Though we have yet to develop a one-size-fits-all cure, we have learned that early detection is critical to improving outcomes. In fact, nearly nine in 10 cancer patients who are diagnosed in an early stage live for five years or more after being diagnosed.
This is why annual mammograms and colonoscopies are so important — because early screenings can help save your life.
Here’s the problem: We simply don’t have a way to detect most of the 100 or so cancers in existence. At the moment, only five cancers have recommended early detection screenings, which leaves us unable to detect the vast majority of cancers before they spread throughout the body. And the cancers for which we lack early detection technologies cause more than 70% of all cancer deaths.
New technologies have been developed, however, that could be the breakthrough we need to turn the tide in this war. Called multi-cancer early detection (MCED), they can test for the presence of dozens of cancers through a noninvasive blood draw. These technologies could redefine how we detect and therefore how we treat cancer — ushering in a new era in the 50-year war.
The Next Step
Like any medical treatment or procedure, research and development is just the first step. The next is making sure new technologies are accessible and affordable. For now, Medicare can’t cover preventative screening technologies until they go through a bureaucratic rigmarole that can take up to a decade, unless Congress acts. Congress can pass legislation to allow Medicare to cover new cancer detection technologies once they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Congress has consistently done this before, ensuring that Medicare could cover mammograms and colonoscopies after being deemed effective and safe.
Since those bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, it’s my sincere hope that the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Act of 2021 will pass promptly, too. Two of our own representatives, Kevin Hern (OK-1) and Markwayne Mullin (OK-2), deserve our thanks for cosponsoring this critical legislation. We encourage their colleagues, especially the Oklahoma delegation, to support this bill.
Fifty years ago, the first shot in the War on Cancer was fired with the signing of the National Cancer Act. While we have made progress, the war is far from over. MCED could define the next phase of this war and help save the lives of so many of our loved ones.
The bottom line: congressional action is needed to help save lives from cancer.
Scott Meacham is the president and CEO of OKBio.