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Policy solutions needed to defeat cancer

Cancer cells - 3d rendered illustration

Over the past year, the remarkable development of Covid vaccines has shown the tremendous promise the world’s biotech industry can bring to patients everywhere. It gives me hope when thinking about the strides we can make in combating some of our most crippling diseases, and no disease has caused more devastation than cancer. But we are on the precipice of a major breakthrough in the way we are able to detect cancer – which would transform the treatment and therefore outcome of cancer diagnoses. Now we need our health and government leaders to come together and foster this potentially life-saving advancement. 

Debbie DiCarlo

Debbie DiCarlo

Coverage for cancer screenings up until now have been limited to only a handful of detectable cancers, such as a mammography for breast cancer. The fact is, due to the lack of screenings, the vast majority of cancers are undetectable when they’re in an early stage. As a result, diagnosis occurs at a later and more complex stage. But new advancements have made it possible to detect dozens of cancers early, when they’re easier to treat. They are found through a simple blood draw that can detect trace DNA fragments from cancer cells in the blood. This breakthrough, called multi-cancer early detection (MCED), will be an important new weapon in the War on Cancer. 

Cancer has hit Arizona particularly hard. We will have nearly 40,000 cases of cancer in 2021 alone, and rank in the bottom 10 when it comes to the cancer screenings. There are numerous causes, but we cannot ignore the fact that cancer screenings are the best preventative tool in our fight. MCED could help save the lives of those who are in the early stages of cancer. The five-year survival rate for cancer detected at an early stage is nearly 90%. 

Now that the science is here, I ask our elected officials to provide the leadership needed to increase coverage available for seniors on Medicare. When these technologies receive Food and Drug Administration approval, at-risk patients must be able to access MCED as soon as possible. This is especially true for seniors, who will benefit greatly from these cancer screenings. Studies have shown that cancer diagnoses increase significantly at age 65. If we are able to get Medicare recipients covered for multi-cancer early detection, it will save countless lives and save Medicare funds in the long run since late-stage cancer is so costly to treat. 

It is often said that if you have not been affected by cancer, you will be. We all have lost too many loved ones and now is the time that we can fight back. I hope our elected leaders will work together to get these multi-cancer early detection programs covered under Medicare so that we can start playing offense in our fight against Cancer. 

Debbie DiCarlo is CEO of Cancer Support Community Arizona. 

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