Cancer Control Month: Past, Present and Future
April 2023 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting
By Pete Mercer
As the second-leading cause of death in the world, cancer is one of the few words in the English language that carries enough weight to stop a person in their tracks. It’s the kind of diagnosis that everyone takes seriously, because most of us know someone that has been affected by the burden of cancer. By recognizing and participating in Cancer Control Month, we can honor those who have battled cancer by finding new ways to reduce the burden that a cancer diagnosis causes.
The month of April is recognized as Cancer Control Month, which is dedicated to raising awareness for cancer prevention and treatment through the United States. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt found that cancer was a deadly enemy that took the lives of nearly 150,000 Americans each year. While the country was fighting abroad during World War II, President Roosevelt decided to start fighting cancer on the home front.
Roosevelt designated the month of April as Cancer Control Month in 1943, calling upon medical professionals, schools, universities, and media to join this movement. From there, he instituted an annual proclamation from the sitting president, calling on all Americans to pay attention to factors that can reduce individual cancer risk. Each year, the month of April is meant to honor the millions of Americans who are currently battling cancer, cancer survivors, as well as those that did not survive their fight with cancer by raising awareness about cancer prevention and the importance of continued research into better treatments.
Goals of Cancer Control Month
Despite the long history of Cancer Control Month, millions of Americans are still affected by the burden of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.9 million people in the United States were diagnosed with cancer in 2022. This is not to say that we’re fighting a losing battle – in fact, a study conducted by The American Cancer Society found that there has been an overall drop in cancer mortality of 33% since 1991.
However, there is still plenty of work to be done. Because of the rates of positive cancer diagnoses, Cancer Control Month has five goals to shape the way in which it is enacted:
- Cancer prevention – According to the National Foundation for Cancer Research, about 30-50% of all cancer cases are preventable. Cancer prevention is a cost-effective, long-term strategy for controlling cancer through raising awareness, reducing exposure to known carcinogens, and equipping the population with the information they need to live a healthy life.
- Early detection of cancer – Early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances of successful, cost-effective treatment. Early detection is a two-pronged strategy: education and screening. When people are educated about cancer risk factors and symptoms, they will better understand the benefits of early detection. Screenings are the tests that determine whether an individual has cancer or not, usually before the onset of symptoms. Screenings are preventative measures like pap smears, mammograms, and colonoscopies that can assess the likelihood of cancerous cells forming.
- Improve cancer treatments – Not all cancer is preventable, so we need measures to improve existing treatments and source the development of future treatments. Chemotherapy is a common and effective cancer treatment, but the success rate of chemo depends on several factors. This is a harsh treatment that causes significant side effects, necessitating more research to provide better methods to treat cancer patients.
- Increase survival rate of cancer – Research is the key to increasing the survivability of cancer. Without the copious amounts of research that scientists have done over the years, a cancer diagnosis would be much bleaker than it is now. Research has provided answers to some of our biggest questions regarding cancer over the years – more importantly, research provides hope to the millions of Americans facing a cancer diagnosis.
- Improve quality of life – Cancer is difficult. It’s a hard diagnosis to live with physically, mentally, and emotionally for patients and their loved ones. No one gets out easy, and it’s a lot to process on both sides of the diagnosis. This is where reducing the burden of cancer becomes a sort of call to action to support patients and their loved ones during this difficult season.
One year anniversary of Cancer Moonshot reignition
The Cancer Moonshot is an initiative launched by former President Barack Obama in 2016 in an effort to cut the death rate from cancer by 50% over the next 25 years, while improving the experience of the people and their families living with cancer. In 2022, President Joe Biden reignited the Cancer Moonshot initiative to continue to work towards the mission to “end cancer as we know it today.”
“The progress we’ve realized to date in understanding and achieving better outcomes for the more than 200 diseases known as cancer is inextricably linked to the collective investment and dedication of the government and the private sector working side by side,” said Dr. Karen E. Knudsen, chief executive officer at The American Cancer Society.
This commitment from the government works to shine a light on the disparities and shortcomings that exist in the current system, giving experts hope that more can be done to fight the burden of cancer on every front. Lisa Lacasse, president of ACS CAN, said, “We call on lawmakers and policymakers in Washington and every state across the country to continue to pick up the mantle and play an instrumental role in reducing cancer incidence and mortality through investment in research, promoting evidence-based prevention, including proven tobacco control; advancing innovation in cancer screening and early detection; and reducing barriers to affordable, comprehensive health care from prevention through survivorship.”
The American Cancer Society and The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network are supporting the Cancer Moonshot’s five priority areas:
1. Close the screening gap
2. Understand and address environmental exposure
3. Decrease the impact of preventable cancers
4. Bring cutting-edge research through the pipeline to patients and communities
5. Support patients and caregivers
While recent reports from The American Cancer Society have shown the incredible progress we’ve made since the 90s, it also found that there is a stark disparity in cancer burden between men and women. From 2012 to 2019, there has been a significant drop in cervical cancer rates in women (ages 20-24) after the development of an HPV vaccine.
Rebecca Siegel, senior scientific director, surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of this report, said in a media release, “The large drop in cervical cancer incidence is extremely exciting because this is the first group of women to receive the HPV vaccine, and it probably foreshadows steep reductions in other HPV-associated cancers.”
Conversely, prostate cancer increased by 3% every year from 2014 to 2019, after a two-decade long period of decline. Alarmingly, much of this increase was driven by the diagnosis of advanced-stage prostate cancer. The report says, “Since 2011, the diagnosis of advanced-stage (regional- or distant-stage) prostate cancer has increased by 4% to 5% annually and the proportion of men diagnosed with distant-stage disease has doubled.”
“The increasing percentage of men presenting with advanced prostate cancer, which is much more difficult to treat and often incurable, is highly discouraging,” said Dr. Knudsen. “In order to end cancer as we know it, for everyone, it is imperative for us to focus on cancers where trends for incidence and mortality are going in the wrong direction.”
Because of this increase in prostate cancer, The American Cancer Society is launching a new initiative called IMPACT or Improving Mortality from Prostate Cancer Together. The report says that IMPACT is designed to eliminate barriers and address needs to ensure that everyone has the same opportunity to be healthy and cancer-free by funding research programs, as well as funding additional programs to enable the expansion of patient support to facilitate access to quality prostate cancer screening and care.
Additionally, IMPACT will help advance public policy designed to directly address the burden of prostate cancer. Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for The American Cancer Society said, “We must address these shifts in prostate cancer, especially in the black community, since the incidence of prostate cancer in black men is 70% higher than in white men. IMPACT will fund bold new cancer research programs that connect the laboratory, the clinic, and the community. These studies will help discern who is most at risk for prostate cancer and how to prevent it.”