Lawmakers can improve the odds in New Yorkers' battles against cancer

By: Michael Davoli, Senior Government Relations Director, ACS CAN New York

January 9, 2023

The following originally appeared in the Albany Times Union on January 9, 2023. 


In 2022, an estimated 118,830 New Yorkers received the three lifechanging words “you have cancer” and around 32,230 died from the disease. Innovation in early detection and cancer care are changing how we detect and treat cancer, but these staggering incidence and mortality rates suggest that many New Yorkers aren’t accessing key innovations.  By improving access to preventative screenings and precision medicine and preventing later-stage diagnoses, New York can increase the chances that everyone diagnosed with cancer in 2023 lives to ring in another New Year. 

New York has the power to reframe the way its residents approach a cancer diagnosis, injecting hope into individuals’ treatment and survivorship. By prioritizing policies that expand New Yorkers’ access to early detection services, lawmakers can address gaps in care and place New York at the forefront of cancer treatment. One route to achieve this would be through the expansion of New York State’s Cancer Services Program (CSP). Erected to provide New Yorkers with free breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings, the CSP is available to individuals living in New York with limited income who are under- or uninsured. Despite its record of success, the CSP has never been able to serve the entire eligible population. In 2017, Governor Cuomo reduced the annual CSP budget by 20%, from $25.6 to $19.8 million where it has remained.

Routine screenings are proven to reduce incidence and mortality rates across cancers. For example, mammograms can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by up to 40%. Recommitting the 20% lost in 2017 would recover definitive gaps in New Yorkers’ access to early detection services. Our leaders shouldn’t stop there; an annual contribution of $25.6 million in the CSP should be a down payment on a larger investment as part of New York State’s next Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan. We can stop troublesome growths before they become cancerous and detect disease before it progresses, giving New Yorkers the best odds to fight their disease and alleviate the burden of their diagnosis.

The next step in minimizing cancer’s burden should be to ensure that New Yorkers who could benefit have access to biomarker testing--a critical component of precision medicine. The results of these biomarker tests can help match patients with the right treatment at the right time. Recent studies show that biomarker testing can improve outcomes for patients with common and serious cancers, like lung and breast cancers. The benefits of biomarker testing are not limited to cancer. Biomarker testing is becoming increasingly important for the treatment of other diseases, including arthritis, other autoimmune conditions and rare diseases.

Currently, many health insurance plans in New York, including Medicaid, may not cover the most appropriate biomarker testing for all patients who could benefit, despite data to indicate its efficacy. Patients who are older, Black, uninsured or Medicaid-insured, are less likely to be tested for certain guideline-indicated biomarkers. With biomarker testing increasingly becoming a standard of care in oncology, it’s time that health insurance plans keep up with innovations in testing and treatment. Improving access to biomarker is a simple way for legislators in Albany to show cancer patients that their health and quality of life are a priority.

We can diminish the dread that accompanies those three life-changing words. New Yorkers needn’t suffer through a preventable disease, later-stage diagnosis nor untailored treatment without the promise of hope. 2023 should be the year legislators capitalize on the opportunity to extend lives and bolster optimism for cancer patients across the state. 


Michael Davoli of Brooklyn is the New York Senior Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.