The state Legislature can help New Yorkers fight cancer. Here's how.

A series of measures would boost prevention, increase detection and expand access to treatment.

March 21, 2024

The following was originally published in the Albany Times Union on March 21, 2024.


Over the past 30 years, the risk of dying from cancer has steadily declined. This trend can partially be explained by declines in smoking rates, progress in early cancer detection and advances in research and treatment. 

Cancer incidence, however, is on the rise for many common cancers. This year, new cases of cancer in New York are expected to surpass 123,000, and we are likely to lose over 30,000 New Yorkers to the disease.

To save more lives, we must prioritize policies that prevent cancer, detect it early and reduce the stress around affording treatment. If we are serious about limiting the burden of cancer for New Yorkers, we have to take a comprehensive approach, which starts with efforts to prevent disease.

Despite overall declines in smoking rates, smoking still causes over 27% of cancer deaths. To thwart its deadly impact, we must take concrete steps to help adults quit and prevent children from smoking in the first place, including ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco products, investing more in evidenced-based smoking cessation programs and creating tax parity on all tobacco products.

Another key to cancer prevention is the HPV vaccine, and uptake across New York is lagging. Our state can address this by requiring reporting on adult vaccination use and bolstering funding for HPV vaccine education to combat disinformation.   

Where we cannot wholly prevent disease, we can work to catch cancer early, enabling patients to start treatment sooner. Too many New Yorkers don't have access to lifesaving early detection services. State leaders can take aim at this, in part, by restoring funding for the New York State Cancer Services Program, expanding its impact to provide more underinsured and uninsured New Yorkers access to breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening.

We should also be doing more to screen for other cancers, including establishing a lung cancer education, screening and treatment program for New Yorkers who meet the American Cancer Society lung cancer screening guidelines. Additionally, the state should be requiring all insurance plans, including Medicaid, to provide a comprehensive benefit for lung and prostate cancer screening, eliminating financial barriers to early detection.  

Cancer patients and their loved ones need to be able to afford to take time off work to attend to their care without losing their job or income. That is why it is critical that New York improve its paid medical leave program. State leaders need to adopt and improve upon Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed changes to temporary disability insurance by incorporating additional protections, including intermittent leave, into the budget, as outlined in legislation (A4053A/S2821A) currently in committee.

Finally, the long-term cost of fighting cancer may weigh on patients for years in the form of medical debt. A recent survey showed that roughly half of cancer survivors reported having cancer-related medical debt, and more than half of those survivors had that debt go to collections. The Legislature should include the protections outlined in the Ounce of Prevention Act (S1366B/A6027A) and the Stop SUNY Suing Act (A8170/S7778) into the state budget. 

Everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to prevent, detect and survive cancer. While doctors and scientists are doing everything they can to save lives from cancer, they cannot do it without the help of state leaders. Every day that we delay adopting these policies, we risk more New Yorkers dying from cancer.


Michael Davoli is the senior government relations director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network of New York.