Democrats, GOP joining to bring early cancer detection to older Americans

Column by Martha Cox
Posted 5/4/22

Breaking down needless financial barriers to early-stage detection of cancer is a critical front in the war on cancer — and essential to the success of President Biden’s “Moonshot” to end cancer as we know it.

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Democrats, GOP joining to bring early cancer detection to older Americans

Posted

Breaking down needless financial barriers to early-stage detection of cancer is a critical front in the war on cancer — and essential to the success of President Biden’s “Moonshot” to end cancer as we know it. The good news is that Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working together to give people with Medicare access to blood-based cancer-screening technologies that have the potential to dramatically increase early-stage diagnosis for a wide range of cancers. 

In a time when it seems like there is zero bipartisan agreement in Washington, it’s real news that there is a groundswell at the Capitol — led by our own Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet — behind legislation to allow Multi Cancer Early Detection (MCED) tests to be covered by Medicare once approved by U.S. Food and Drug Administration and shown to have clinical benefit. 

This is a big deal, particularly for those of us who wished our cancer could have been diagnosed earlier. Let me tell you why. 

We know that the later a cancer is diagnosed, the harder it is to treat. For example, only 6% of those diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer survive five years after their diagnosis. MCED holds great promise to help detect cancers earlier, and they are conducted through a simple blood draw that can detect dozens of cancers — including rare cancers. 

The case for MCED technology received a big boost when the president included it in the relaunch of the cancer Moonshot, stressing that the concept of a broad screening for multiple cancers in the same test was once thought to be a distant dream. Now it’s on a near horizon. 

As a colon cancer survivor, I know the devastating effects of a late-stage diagnosis, not only on good health outcomes but also on cost. If my cancer had been caught earlier, my prognosis probably would have been far different and my treatment far less costly. It’s a basic fact that earlier detection means fewer lives lost to cancer — and better quality of life for those who are diagnosed and undergoing treatment. 

Another fact is that for seniors here in Colorado and across the country, who are often on fixed incomes, additional out-of-pocket medical expenses for tests and treatments not covered by Medicare can be a non-starter. And yet, older Americans are our most at risk population for developing cancer, with 60 percent of people who have cancer being 65 or older. Thus, there can be an even greater benefit for seniors from expanded early detection testing. That’s why we need Congress to pass Sen. Bennet’s bipartisan legislation.

The federal Multi Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act, which Sen. Bennet introduced with Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, has garnered broad support across Congress and the cancer advocacy community. The legislation opens the door for Medicare to cover the tests quickly after receiving approval from the FDA and being shown to have clinical benefit. 

Imagine the millions of older Americans who could live longer, have less costly and challenging treatments, and have a better quality of life because their cancer was caught early. Through one bill, Congress can show that there still are issues where leaders can reach across the political aisle and unite behind a landmark step forward for the health of those in every corner of our country. 

Martha Cox, of Morrison, is a colorectal cancer survivor and a volunteer for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

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