President-elect offers hope to advance cancer care
This year has thrown more than its share of challenges our way. With so much coming at us, we can be forgiven for forgetting that November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month. But this is an important opportunity to better understand one of the deadliest forms of cancer and empower ourselves with the knowledge to protect those we love.
Lung cancer accounts for 25% of all cancer deaths across the country. This statistic is particularly staggering given that there are more than 100 different cancers. Here in Oregon, 1,750 people will die of lung cancer this year alone — more than double the number of deaths from any of the other individual cancers, including pancreatic, colon and breast cancers.
These grim statistics come down to very bad timing. Let me explain. Almost half of lung cancer cases across the country are caught in a late stage, meaning the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. For these patients, the chances of surviving five years or longer is only 6%. But when you flip the script and catch lung cancer early, survival rates jump to almost 60%.
It's clear that finding lung cancer early is the key to saving many lives. One hurdle is that today, there are only recommended screenings for individuals at "high-risk" based on their smoking history and age. As a result, patients often present with signs and symptoms when it's too late.
We may be on the cusp of changing this paradigm. Several companies are studying a new kind of screening that uses a simple blood draw to find early signs of many different cancers and predict its origin in the body with high accuracy. It's called multi-cancer early detection, and these tests would complement existing screenings for lung cancer as well as others, like mammograms and colonoscopies.
I am hopeful that once the Food and Drug Administration approves these tests, they will be widely accessible. For that to happen, our elected officials in Washington, D.C., must start to plan ahead to address gaps in insurance coverage that could stop these advances in their tracks. These tests are especially important for seniors, the age group most at risk for any kind of cancer. By ensuring coverage of this new technology in Medicare, the insurance provider for millions of seniors, lawmakers have an opportunity to advance us into a whole new era in our fight against cancer.
With a president-elect who has a deeply personal connection to cancer and a history of prioritizing policies that advance cancer care, I look forward to seeing the strides we can make in the years ahead. This past year has been full of tragedy. Let's consider early cancer detection a rare opportunity to make a big difference.
Beavercreek resident Lorren Sandt is co-founder and executive director of the Caring Ambassadors Program, a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the lives of patients and communities by empowering and educating them to be advocates for their own health.
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