In late March, N.C. Sen. Thom Tillis announced he would soon undergo surgery to treat prostate cancer. The treatment is now complete and, family by his side, a full recovery is expected. But as the Senator noted, his “prognosis was good” because he went to his annual physical and diligently received recommended early cancer screening tests. As he correctly concluded, “Early detection can truly save lives.”And the numbers support that statement: Cancer caught at an early stage, before it spreads throughout the body, has a 90 percent survival rate for five years or more after diagnosis. That’s why it’s so important to schedule and receive recommended screenings as Sen. Tillis did.
While millions of Americans do get recommended screenings like prostate screenings, colonoscopies, and mammograms, too many skip those recommended screenings. Missed cancer screenings result in later detection, and late-stage detections lower the five-year survival rate to 21 percent.
But not all cancers have early screening tests. In fact, of the many cancers that plague us, only five have recommended early detection screenings. It is therefore unsurprising that cancer is the number two killer in the United States and will likely become the number one cause of death in the near future. That’s already happened here in North Carolina, where cancer is the leading cause of death. We will discover almost 64,000 new cases of the disease in the state this year, and cancer will claim the lives of more than 20,000 of our friends, family, and neighbors.
So, how can we turn the tide in the war against such a deadly disease? Of the cancers that have recommended screenings, those who get tested regularly do better against the disease. The challenge is developing tests that can screen for more than one cancer. As of this writing, new technologies are making their way to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review and approval process that are about to revolutionize our battle against this scourge.
Termed multi-cancer early detection (MCED), these early screenings, accomplished via a noninvasive blood draw, can detect dozens of cancers. And, with minimal additional training, primary care providers could administer these technologies without the help of specialists. What’s left to figure out is the matter of accessibility.
The good news is that a bipartisan team of our elected officials in Washington appear to be paying attention.
In a collaborative effort with Republicans and Democrats, N.C. Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican, is leading the way by sponsoring the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from North Carolina, is a co-sponsor. On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a Republican, is a sponsor alongside Democrats from Colorado and Maryland.
The legislation would allow Medicare to cover MCED technologies as soon as they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That will ensure seniors, the population at the highest risk for receiving cancer diagnoses, have access to these potentially lifesaving breakthroughs.
Congress has passed similar legislation to cover tests like pap smears in the past, so we are hopeful that this Congress will continue to follow suit.
The “War on Cancer,” first inaugurated by President Richard Nixon exactly 50 years ago, has been unceasing. Seeking to harness the same energies and innovation used to take Americans to the moon, President Joe Biden has proclaimed that the Cancer Moonshot 2021 mission is a top priority for his administration. Further, we keep fighting on strong as ever as recoveries like that made by Sen. Tillis attest. But more weapons, like multi-cancer early detection, are needed in our arsenal. Also needed is a reinvigorated bipartisan spirit when it comes to life-and-death matters that transcend political parties.
We – a Democrat and Republican – co-wrote this message to demonstrate to all concerned Americans that such an effort is possible. We now count on our colleagues, friends, and leaders in Washington to do the same. Cancer does not recognize political parties, so when it comes to winning the war against this deadly disease, neither should we.
Wayne Goodwin was Chair of the NC Democratic Party from 2017-2021 and the former Insurance Commissioner for North Carolina. Mr. Goodwin’s wife, former State Rep. Melanie Wade Goodwin, succumbed to breast cancer at age 50 in 2020.
Dallas Woodhouse is an investigative reporter for Carolina Journal and former Executive Director of the North Carolina Republican Party (2015-2019).