Health Care

Lawmakers call for more resources to support early cancer detection

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Wednesday that early intervention and support of emerging research is critical in the fight against cancer.

Speaking at The Hill’s Cancer Summit, Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a cancer survivor and chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said it is an “optimistic time” for advances in treatments, but removing barriers to diagnostic testing is necessary to identify cancer in individuals sooner.

“Early intervention is more likely than not to produce a good result,” he told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

Blunt discussed a bill he introduced in April with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) that would eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for breast cancer diagnostic tests.

“Often the breast cancer screening creates an understanding that you might have breast cancer, but unless you can afford the diagnostics, are willing to go through that process on your own, you might not be able to find out if you have it or not,” he said.

Blunt acknowledged it can be “frustrating” as new treatments go through lengthy regulatory approvals at agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saying he supports recent bipartisan right to try legislation passed into law in 2018 that allows terminally ill patients to access certain unapproved treatments.

“Lives are lost that maybe could have been changed differently, so I think all of us would like to see FDA work more quickly, including people at FDA,” Blunt said.

He added that Francis Collins, who announced Tuesday that he will step down as the director of the National Institutes of Health after nearly three decades in the role, has built relationships with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

“His credibility in the scientific community is extraordinary,” Blunt said.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), a cancer survivor and member of the House Appropriations Committee who also spoke on Wednesday, said building a health care system that is accessible and affordable will enable more people to receive sufficient monitoring for cancer, but doing so is one of Congress’ “greatest challenges.”

“We’ve got an obligation to make sure that everyone has access to good health care and that the health care is responsive to the needs of all individuals and that it shouldn’t be predicated upon how much money you make,” she said at the event sponsored by Illumina.

Watson Coleman encouraged people to have routine checkups and medical appointments, saying early cancer detection is “vitally important.” Her own cancer diagnosis came after she sought medical attention for what she thought was bronchitis, she said.

“I don’t think people pay attention to their body and what it’s telling them,” she said. “They just miss things. I was one of them.”

She raised concerns over public stigma surrounding cancer, calling for increased educational resources so that people are encouraged to seek care when they need it.

“We don’t have enough public discussions about the cancers and how you can not fear the word ‘cancer,’” Watson Coleman said.

Tags Bonnie Watson Coleman Jeanne Shaheen Roy Blunt

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