Last week was an exciting one for cancer care providers and the patients and families they treat.
On Wednesday, February 2, the President's Cancer Panel released the report, Closing Gaps in Cancer Screening: Connecting People, Communities, and Systems to Improve Equity and Access. The report found that “too many Americans—particularly those in communities of color and socially and economically disadvantaged populations—are presenting with more advanced disease at the time of diagnosis, enduring aggressive treatment, or dying from cancers that could have been detected at earlier, more treatable stages.”
Cancer Screening & Prevention
The three-person panel that authored the report identified four crucial goals and related recommendations to ensure that the benefits of cancer screening reach all populations. Among these was the recommendation to “facilitate equitable access by providing and increasing funding for community-oriented outreach and support, including robust engagement of community health workers and increasing patient access to self-sampling.” This recommendation supports the existing efforts at ACCC member programs such as Yuma Regional Medical Center Cancer Center in Yuma, Arizona, which leverages traditional Hispanic promotoras, or community health workers, to reach at-risk and underserved patients. In 2019, Yuma received an ACCC Innovator Award for implementing genetic cancer screening and testing in a medically underserved community.
The President’s Cancer Panel also calls for “strengthening workforce collaborations by empowering all members of the healthcare team to support cancer screening and expand access to genetic testing.” Increasing the number of people screened for cancer—especially those most at risk—has long been a priority for ACCC member programs. In 2012, ACCC awarded OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, Grant Cancer Care, in Columbus, Ohio, an ACCC Innovator Award for its ConvenientCare Mammography program, which transports women to cancer screenings from their places of work during their lunch hour. More recently, ACCC recognized the Prevention on the Go Program at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which goes one step further and partners with community organizations to bring education and early detection services to where community members live, work, worship, shop, and play. Equity is a pillar at Mary Bird Perkins, and the cancer program won a 2016 ACCC Innovator Award for its work to improve early detection in at-risk and underserved patient populations.
These programs demonstrate many of the recommendations of the President’s Cancer Panel in action. “These recommendations align perfectly with the core values of ACCC, as our member programs strive to connect and advocate for equitable care across the country,” lauds ACCC President Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW. “On a personal note, as a clinical social worker who has the opportunity to work with some of the most vulnerable [patients] on a daily basis, I am grateful for President Biden’s attention and spotlight on these issues, and I hope that together our community will create real change and make healthcare—including mental healthcare—accessible and affordable for all.”
Read more about what ACCC member programs across the country are doing today to improve equitable screening and outreach in the recent ACCCBuzz blog series, The Long Road to Recovery: A Snapshot of Cancer Screening in the U.S.
Genetic Testing & Counseling
Improving equitable access to genetic testing has also been a key focus of ACCC for many years. As early as 2013, ACCC Innovator Award Winner St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute (now St. Luke’s Cancer Institute) in Boise, Idaho, addressed two major barriers—access to qualified genetic specialists and patient identification—through a two-pronged approach: telehealth and weekly chart review.
In 2020, ACCC developed the resource, Making the Case for Hiring a Certified Genetic Counselor, to demonstrate how the provision of these services can improve patient health outcomes and increase patient satisfaction. The resource also discusses how genetic counseling offers a return on investment by helping cancer programs avoid unnecessary costs, decrease liability, and generate downstream revenue.
In March 2021, ACCC joined other stakeholders in stating its support for H.R. 2144, the Access to Genetic Counselors Services Act of 2021 "to update Medicare law and improve access to genetic counselors for Medicare beneficiaries." Now, ACCC is supporting the Senate version of the bill, S. 1450, which would authorize the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to recognize certified genetic counselors as healthcare providers.
In 2021, the Iowa Oncology Society convened a multidisciplinary consortium to advance genetic counseling in oncology. This year, the Society will release a white paper of its findings with actionable opportunities to improve cancer genetic testing by, for example, referring patients to genetic counselors who can provide clear information about insurance coverage for genetic testing.
Cancer Moonshot Continues
On February 2, President Biden announced plans to revamp the federal Cancer Moonshot program he spearheaded in 2016, with the goal of reducing the cancer death rate by at least 50% over the next 25 years. The initiative aims to improve the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer by increasing cancer screenings, increasing access to clinical trials, and investing in new treatments, among other initiatives.
To help in this effort, ACCC made available to the White House resources and tools from its member programs, with a specific focus on cancer prevention for underserved and marginalized patient populations. ACCC also communicated pilot project objectives from ACCC’s joint collaboration with the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which seeks to increase racial and ethnic diversity in cancer clinical trials. Today, the two organizations are working with 75 small and large research sites at community- and academic-based oncology programs to pilot a research capacity self-assessment tool and an implicit bias training program. Results from this pilot study will be disseminated to the broader oncology community later this year.
ACCC is a long-time supporter of Cancer Moonshot. ACCC President (2016-2017) Jennie R. Crews, MD, MMM, FACP, participated in a June 29, 2016, Cancer Moonshot Summit held in Washington, D.C., where a diverse group of stakeholders, including cancer patients, advocacy groups, researchers, providers, and industry members, was tasked with developing action items to address a number of challenges in cancer care, including access to clinical trials; ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities; use of precision medicine; and cancer prevention and control.
“The relaunch of Cancer Moonshot is an exciting and welcome announcement. The original message of urgency to end cancer as we know it through research and improved treatment is echoed in this revamp, but with a renewed focus on prevention, screening, and addressing disparities,” applauded Dr. Crews. “With our broad membership of community and academic cancer programs in rural and urban settings, and representation from the entire cancer team, ACCC is an ideal partner to contribute to innovative solutions that support the Cancer Moonshot initiative.”
On September 7, 2016, the Cancer Moonshot Blue Ribbon Panel released a set of 10 recommendations for accelerating cancer research to further the overall Moonshot goal of making a decade’s worth of cancer research progress in five years. Among those recommendations: accelerate the development of guidelines for routine monitoring and management of patient-reported symptoms to minimize debilitating side effects of cancer and its treatment and reduce cancer risk and cancer health disparities through approaches in development, testing, and broad adoption of proven prevention strategies.
As Cancer Moonshot reignites, ACCC will continue to support the White House and leverage the expertise and resources of its member programs to achieve equitable quality care for all patients with cancer and their families. Stay tuned for ways you can get involved!
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