Guest Opinion: Still more to do when it comes to cancer mortality


Matthew J. Burday, a doctor of osteopathy, is the president of the Medical Society of Delaware.

We need to do better concerning cancer deaths, and medical science is going to make it possible for us to do so. But it is also going to require a focused effort on the part of our state’s political leaders to make a sizable dent in our cancer death numbers — and thankfully, our own Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, all D-Del., have stepped up to this most important challenge.

New cancer-screening tools are emerging from successful large-scale clinical testing. From the draw of a patient’s blood, doctors will be able not only to ascertain whether a patient has any one of dozens of types of cancer and where in the body the tumor is likely located. This will be an enormous leap forward for our cancer-screening capabilities. Right now, we can only screen for five types of cancer — breast, cervical, colorectal, lung and prostate. That leaves far too many other cancers, including ovarian, stomach, liver, esophageal, kidney and others, with a greater opportunity to spread before they can be diagnosed, significantly worsening survival odds. Today, 7 of every 10 cancer deaths are from a variation of the disease for which we do not have screening technologies.

These multi-cancer early-detection blood tests can change all of that. Instead of searching for a particular type of cancer — as when we use a mammogram to check for breast cancer — these blood tests let us screen for multiple cancers at one time. And with early detection comes more effective treatment and the greater likelihood that cancer will be in our patients’ pasts, not shortening their futures.

As with so many medical innovations, the key is access. The potential of a new breakthrough technology is severely limited if doctors and patients cannot use it. That is where the leadership from Delaware’s voices on Capitol Hill is so important.

It is critical that these multi-cancer blood tests be accessible to our senior Delawareans. As we age, our likelihood of being afflicted with cancer increases. Yet the laws governing Medicare are outdated and far out of alignment with progress in medical technology. Even if a new advancement, like these blood tests, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Medicare will not cover it for years (or ever). That is not acceptable when 600,000 Americans each year are still dying from cancer.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. The Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act would create a pathway for Medicare coverage of these lifesaving blood tests. I am so thankful that the entire Delaware delegation has supported this bill. It has the kind of universal support you rarely see in political circles these days.

But Congress is on the clock. If lawmakers do not act before they adjourn for the year, the next Congress would have to start the process of introducing and passing this legislation from square one in 2023. We need action now.

We have come a long way in battling cancer in our state. Two decades ago, we had one of the nation’s worst cancer mortality rates, and now, we are 15th. Medical science is giving us the ability to achieve further victories over this terrible disease. We can envision a future in which more lives can be saved, just as long as lawmakers allow us access to the tools to do so

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.