By Representative Patricia Moore Henegan
In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates that just over 33,000 of our family, friends and neighbors across the state will first learn they have cancer. More than 10,000 South Carolinians living with the illness will die. Depending on the year, cancer can be the leading cause of death in our state. When it does not have the number one spot, it is always a close second.
As a country, cancer has so long been in the national spotlight that it’s easy to forget—until it happens to us or someone we love—that the scourge continues. And while it’s true that we continue to improve life-saving care, the “silver-bullet” cure eludes oncologists, especially for cancers that remain undetected until wide-spread metastasis makes their existence evident.
The good news is that we have gotten a lot better at early detection screening. Pap smears, colonoscopies and mammograms were designed to catch cancer in its infancy, when the five-year survival rate hits close to 90%. Now, a new generation of cancer screenings coming strong thanks to advances in biology and computer science. Dubbed “multi-cancer early detection” (MCED), these technologies screen for dozens of cancer types at once through a simple blood draw. This improves—by an order of magnitude—a physicians’ ability to spot and treat cancer when it most counts.
This revolution in preventive cancer care has started to turn heads outside of the oncology community. Our own U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (SC-06), the House Majority Whip, recently sponsored a bill that would ensure these technologies are accessible for the most vulnerable South Carolinians by updating outmoded aspects of Medicare.
This is great progress and should be commended. Now the legislation is on the goal line.
With the backing of members of congressional leadership, 53 co-sponsors in the Senate, and 236 co-sponsors in the House, the 117th Congress is on the precipice of getting the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act into the endzone. But when the session breaks in a few months, all pending legislation zeros-out and must be re-introduced in the new session. Meanwhile, and not to put too fine a point on the matter, more South Carolinians will learn they have the disease, with too many of them diagnosed in late stages.
It does not have to be this way. Not too long ago, similar legislation updating Medicare was passed to bring us coverage for screenings like a mammography and colonoscopy. Millions of lives have been saved as a result. There is also support for these technologies from the White House. Back in May, President Joe Biden announced the “Cancer Moonshot,” a policy initiative with the goal of halving the cancer mortality rate in the next 25 years. One of the key pillars of this program is—you guessed it—multi-cancer detection tests.
I hope more members of Congress heed the direction of leaders like Rep. Clyburn, and that fighting cancer is one issue where bi-partisan support can give the legislation the legs it needs to pass this year.
Representative Patricia Moore Henegan is a retired educator, member of the South Carolina House. She represents District 54 covering Chesterfield, Darlington & Marlboro Counties.