MONTGOMERY, AL – February 4, 2022 – An event held late Thursday by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) highlighted the promise of new blood-based cancer screening technologies that have the potential to dramatically increase early-stage diagnosis for a wide range of cancers and called on Congress to pass the Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage (MCED) Act to speed access to these tests once approved by FDA and shown to have clinical benefit.
In his address this week on reigniting the fight against cancer, President Biden highlighted the potential of MCED to expand the cancers we screen for and applauded Rep. Sewell for her leadership. The potential for such a milestone in early detection of cancer was subsequently noted by local cancer survivors, policy experts and U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL) during the virtual event yesterday.
“The MCED Act occurred way before my mom got pancreatic cancer, but I can tell you that I was motivated personally by so many health disparities that have led to so many African-Americans disproportionately being affected by cancer – including my hero and colleague John Lewis,” shared MCED bill sponsor, Rep. Sewell during the event. “Almost everyone, whether it has been in their direct family, or their church family, has been affected by cancer in some way and unless government gives the resources to lung cancer and pancreatic cancer, we can’t find a way to screen for some of these tests. There are a lot of cancers that are currently using therapies and treatments that are 30-years-old. We need to leverage resources, from the scientific community, health community, academia and our government.”
While more research is needed to assess the impact on outcomes multi-cancer screening tests could have, these tests could be lifesaving. But only if individuals have access to them. Because the risk of cancer increases with age, Medicare beneficiaries are especially vulnerable and, therefore, ensuring they have access to this new technology once approved and proven effective is critical. Without legislation to do this, Medicare beneficiaries could experience unacceptable delays in access to multi-cancer early detection. The MCED Act aims to create a pathway for coverage of such tests, if approved by the FDA and shown to have clinical benefit.
Several innovative private and academic entities are currently developing multi-cancer early detection blood-based tests. Published, early data indicate that the tests can screen for multiple cancers at the same time, including rare cancers.
“Cancer unfortunately is no stranger to me or my family,” noted ACS CAN Alabama volunteer and non-small cell lung cancer survivor, Kimberly Alexander while speaking about her step father’s diagnosis. “His doctors never recommended early screenings and my mom’s doctors never recommended it, although they both met the criteria to be screened. For that reason and many more, I’m so glad that through ACS CAN I can advocate for laws to make sure that lawmakers take the right against cancer seriously. Knowing that lawmakers like Rep. Sewell are in the fight give me a sense of pride and assurance that my cancer issues, and our cancer issues, will not go unnoticed nor unaddressed.”
While overall cancer mortality rates have been declining for more than two decades in the United States, racial, socioeconomic and geographic disparities persist and are especially stark in states like Alabama that have a higher prevalence of underserved communities. A simple blood test may be more accessible to such residents, extending screening opportunities to rural areas of the state and within communities of color by ensuring Medicare coverage once clinical benefit is shown.
The Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act was re-introduced in both the House and the Senate in 2021. Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) is the bill’s sponsor in the House, and Reps. Jodey Arrington (R-TX), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), and Richard Hudson (R-NC) are original co-sponsors.