May 2021 Notable News
The new magic number for colorectal screenings is 45 not 50, parking fees are affecting cancer care, and there are a lot of promising developments regarding potential vaccines, lung cancer treatments and breast cancer screenings, but all the advances in cancer care are not equally available to everyone, and a cancer alliance has issued a call to action.
The disparities in cancer care are profound and widespread, says the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) in a statement posted by journalofclinicalpathways.com. The COA statement notes that an estimated 34 percent of cancer deaths among adults between the ages of 25 to 74 could be prevented if socioeconomic disparities were eliminated. People in groups defined by such things as race and ethnicity, disability, gender identity, income, education, national origin, and geographic location are likely to experience disparities in access to screening, access to care, and ability to pay for care. Read the full COA statement and their call to action here.
Cancer care disparity is also evident in states where fewer people qualify for Medicaid, where, due to lower income eligibility limits, cancer patients have shorter long-term survival rates, reports cancernetwork.com. Medicaid eligibility is not the same in every state. Some states set Medicaid eligibility incomes higher than others, meaning that in order to qualify for Medicaid, income levels have to be at or below the income eligibility level set by each specific state. Texas, for example, has a low income eligibility requirement, so fewer people qualify for Medicaid. A recent study showed that in areas where Medicaid eligibility limits are the lowest, the length of survival was shorter than in the states with high eligibility limits. The study assessed the relationship between state Medicaid income eligibility limits and long-term survival of cancer patients by using the data of 1.5 million adults from the National Cancer Database who were newly diagnosed with 17 common cancers. Researchers noted the study highlights the critical need for equitable care because people who are uninsured are less likely to have regular screenings and are unlikely to start or complete cancer care. Learn more here.
Believe it or not, parking might be affecting quality of cancer care. As pbs.org reports, high parking fees are weighing heavily on many cancer patients and their caregivers, and the negative effects of the cost of parking for cancer treatments are gaining attention from oncology researchers and hospital administrators. Some of the best cancer treatment centers are located where parking is a premium and patients can end up paying up to $40 a day in parking fees. It’s an additional, out-of-pocket expense that no one expects when they get a cancer diagnosis, and it can really add up. A study revealed that some patients pay $1,680 in parking fees during cancer treatment. One patient revealed that he opted not to participate in a clinical trial because he couldn’t afford the cost of parking. Read more about this hot topic here.
While the inequities in care are discouraging, the advances in screenings and treatments continue to be encouraging. There is new hope for people with early-stage lung cancer in the form of an immunotherapy drug, says webmd.com. The drug, an immune checkpoint inhibitor called atezolizumab, is the first to significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or death in people with stage 11 or 111A non-small cell lung cancer. The risk is reduced by 34 percent compared to a 16 percent reduction from currently used chemotherapy. While the findings are promising, the drug can have some serious, life-threatening side effects. Find more information here.
An updated breast cancer screening may be on the way with the development of a new biosensor to help detect early-stage breast, reports medicalxpress.com. The biosensor, developed in Spain, helps detect cancer through a blood test, and it is easy to use, inexpensive, and yields results in 30 to 60 minutes. Learn more about how the biosensor test works here.
The screening methods for colorectal cancer remain the same, but the timeline is changing. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and experts are now recommending that routine screening start five years earlier, reports npr.org. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent volunteer panel of national experts, now says that screening should begin at age 45 instead of age 50. The recommendation is expected to save lives and give more people access to the screening tests. Learn more here.
The earlier screenings combined with a potential vaccine could put us on the right path to knocking colorectal cancer out of its third-place ranking for cancer deaths. Researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center are using the mRNA technology that was used to create the COVID-19 vaccines to create a vaccine for stage two and stage three colon cancers, reports KHOU 11 News Houston, khou.com. Originally developed many years ago to treat cancer, mRNA vaccines can be personalized to each patient, and through clinical trials this summer, researchers will test if the vaccines can eradicate microscopic cancer cells left behind in colon cancer patients who have had tumors surgically removed. Eradicating the remaining cancer cells will prohibit the cancer from returning. Researchers say the vaccines can be applied to other cancers as well. Watch the KHOU 11 report and learn more about how the mRNA vaccines work here.
There has been a drop in cervical cancers thanks to screening and the HPV vaccine, but other cancers caused by the human papillomavirus are on the rise, reports apnews.com. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus and while most infections have no symptoms and go away without treatment, each year about 35,900 of the infections develop into cancer. It can take decades for an HPV infection to develop into cancer, which might explain the rise in some cancers. Experts say that the cancers we’re seeing now could be a result of the sexual practices of Baby Boomers in the late 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Oral and throat cancers have increased the most in men, and anal cancer and a rare rectal cancer have increased the most in women. Young women, who would have been the first to get the HPV vaccine when it made its debut in 2006, saw the biggest drop in cervical cancer cases. Find more information here.
Jennifer Lessinger is a professional writer and editor who learned the value of patient empowerment during her struggle with a hard-to-diagnose and complex endocrine disorder.