Op-Ed: Legislation needed to ensure access to new multi-cancer early detection technology
By Melissa Karrer
Executive Director of Kentucky CancerLink
Cancer doesn’t know age, race or demographic. And the truth is, we all know someone – a family member, friend, neighbor or loved one – who has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis. We are hopeful for a cure to cancer, but until that day, Kentucky CancerLink is committed to serving as a link to hope for Kentuckians experiencing a diagnosis. We believe in creating a stronger, healthier commonwealth, free from cancer.
Despite advancements in cancer therapy over the years, too many of our fellow Kentuckians are still dying from this disease. The commonwealth leads the nation in cancer mortality rates, and the American Cancer Society projects more than 10,000 deaths this year alone.
That’s why it’s important that we work together, as a community, to educate people on the signs and symptoms of cancer and ensure that all Kentuckians have access to cancer screenings.
At Kentucky CancerLink, we seek to address barriers to cancer care and provide hope to Kentuckians who are battling this disease. Central to our work is making sure that Kentuckians have access to recommended early cancer screenings. We educate people on the importance of getting cancer screenings on time and help connect them to the available resources. That way, we hope to minimize the damage that cancer inflicts on patients and their loved ones.
Over the last five years, the cancer mortality rate in the state has dropped by just over two percent, while deaths attributed to lung cancer declined by more than double that rate. This is certainly welcome news, but the sad truth is too many Kentuckians still succumb to the deadly disease every day.
Sadly, only five cancers have recommended early screenings. As the saying goes, early detection saves lives – and the data proves it. A breakthrough in medical science could help detect even more cancers earlier.
Medical researchers are in the process of testing new technologies that could transform cancer outcomes in Kentucky and throughout the country. Scientists have discovered that cancerous tumors shed DNA into the bloodstream and blood testing can detect trace amounts of cancer cells in the blood, which they can use to predict the location of the tumor. Companies are testing multi-cancer early detection (MCED) technologies, as they’re called, as a way to screen for many different cancers through a simple blood draw.
A noninvasive blood draw, which can be administered by a primary care provider with minimal additional training, could improve access to cancer screenings for all Kentuckians living from Pikeville to Paducah. Adding an early detection test to a primary care checkup could help address existing cancer screening disparities.
For these early screenings to have an impact, patients must be able to access these tests. It is critical to ensure that patients and providers can access these innovations as soon as they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration. However, cancer advocates across the country are concerned that coverage won’t be there for patients and their doctors. Thankfully, some in Congress are taking notice.
A bipartisan group of forward-thinking legislators has introduced the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act of 2021, which would modernize Medicare, allowing it to cover these innovative technologies for our most vulnerable citizens.
Kentucky CancerLink is proud to join with more than 300 leading cancer advocacy organizations across the country in urging Congress to pass this critical legislation to ensure access to these preventative screenings as soon as they become available, avoiding delays due to bureaucratic hurdles and red tape. Ensuring timely access to multi-cancer early detection screenings will hopefully usher in a new era of cancer treatment and prevention.