In the State of the Union address, President Obama announced the most important research initiative to find a cure for cancer since the 1971 War on Cancer. Themed the “Moonshot,” this initiative seeks to break down barriers limiting scientific discovery and invest one billion dollars to help make new therapies available to patients while improving our ability to prevent cancer. The Colon Cancer Alliance vigorously supports the Moonshot; however, we believe there is an additional element that should be included in the strategy to ensure mission success.
As part of an extensive research agenda, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) will invest in the development and evaluation of minimally invasive screening assays to enable more sensitive diagnostic tests for cancer. Recent advances in genomic technology have increased the sensitivity of methods to detect cancer, which could lead to new screening methods. And while new and improved screening methods will be a welcome addition to existing tests, they will face the same challenge—they are of no value unless people actually take them.
Today there are a variety of safe and effective screening methods for colorectal cancer, including easy-to-use at home tests. Timely screening with existing tests could prevent the majority of the 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer this year, yet one-third of adults that should be screened for colorectal cancer have not taken this life-saving step. We don’t know yet if the new and improved screening tests for colorectal cancer introduced recently will change the screening rate and we cannot just assume another new test developed in the Moonshot initiative will make a difference unless there is an accompanying public health strategy that results in increased usage.
With its exclusive focus on biomedical research seeking new treatments and a cure, the Moonshot initiative is missing the vital role public health strategies play in reducing cancer incidence and mortality. Public health strategies that have increased the screening rate is the primary reason for the significant decline in the incidence of colorectal cancer in the last decade. The Moonshot initiative could significantly benefit by including prevention strategies. In a letter to Vice President Biden, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health stated: “While curative treatments often appear more exciting to the public, investments in public health and prevention hold even more promise for both short and long-term reductions in cancer incidence and mortality rates.”
The Colon Cancer Alliance will continue to aggressively promote the Moonshot initiative and encourage everyone in our community to join us in supporting this vital effort, but we also encourage the Moonshot Task Force and Blue Ribbon Panel to ensure that the advances in the research efforts focused on improved screening actually result in fewer cases of cancer and cancer-related deaths by including prevention strategies and not assume “if you build it they will come.”
What do you think about the Moonshot initiative? As always, Speak Up and Speak Out.
Speak Up, Speak Out is an advocacy series where we bring you the information you need to know every third Tuesday of the month. Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030.