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President Biden’s cancer initiative needed as COVID created a ‘public health disaster,' local oncology experts say

The goal: To reduce cancer deaths by 50% in 25 years
Doctor generic
Posted at 5:41 PM, Feb 03, 2022

CLEVELAND — President Joe Biden has relaunched the White House’s Cancer Moonshot initiative. It’s a commitment to reducing cancer’s death rate by 50% in 25 years, and Northeast Ohio leaders in the fight against cancer say this comes at a time when a great "reset" is needed.

A part of the initiative is announcing a call for action for cancer screenings.

Dr. Ted Teknos is the president of University Hospitals’ Seidman Cancer Center.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a public health disaster when it comes to preventative cancer screenings.

"The earlier we catch cancers, the more likely we are to cure them,” he said. “Because of the COVID pandemic, 9.5 million screening exams went unfilled. That is going to result in about 10,000 additional cancer deaths over the course of the next decade or so, so this really has been a public health disaster for the cancer community, and I see it in my own practice."

Dr. Timothy Chan, the chair of the Center for Immunotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic, echoed Teknos’ sentiment.

"Folks are coming in with much more advanced tumors, at a much less curable state. So they really, really want to put together an all hands on deck effort to actually implement a lot of screening and lifesaving measures that one can do even before therapy," said Chan.

Teknos said some of the most common screenings missed are breast cancer, colorectal cancer, cervical cancer and lung cancer.

The Moonshot Cancer initiative also calls for more research into cancer cures and therapies.

"The amount of investment in cancer research has lagged over the last couple of decades, even compared to inflation,” said Teknos. "Just like we did during the COVID pandemic, you know, I think that's a beautiful example of when government and private industry come together, you can solve big problems.”

Chan said there’s a lot of research and trials right now that can build on this momentum.

"We have really expanded the capabilities and the resources available to our patients with cancer. We have launched a program here where everybody that needs tumor sequencing to figure out the mutation profiles and to match patients with the right treatments," he said.

Teknos said he is confident in the scientific possibilities.

"Just look at the incredible advances in genetics over the last few decades. It has allowed us to get to the point where a simple blood test can look for tumor DNA circulating in the blood and can detect a myriad of cancers, up to 50 cancers, just with a simple blood test," he said.

Other goals, according to the White House, include increasing equitable access to screening and treatment, recognizing disparities and improving the care provided to patients after they’ve overcome their fight with cancer.

Teknos and Chan are confident the goal of reducing cancer deaths by 50% is an obtainable one.

“The fact that we backslid for the last two years, in terms of public health responses to cancer, this is the perfect reset moment. You know, really ramp up our screenings, ramp up prevention efforts and then really invest in brilliant discoveries,” Teknos said. “I absolutely think a 50% reduction in the next 25 years is possible.”

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