President Joe Biden today reintroduced the Cancer Moonshot program with the goal of reducing the cancer death rate at least 50 percent over the next 25 years and improving the experience of living with and surviving cancer.
“We can do this. We can end cancer as we know it," Biden said in his announcement at the White House on Wednesday.
Recent progress in cancer diagnostics, therapeutics, and patient-driven care, along with scientific advances and public health lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic make these goals possible, according to a White House release. “It's bold, it's ambitious, but it's completely doable,” said Biden.
More Than 1 Million Americans Are Diagnosed With Cancer Each Year
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1,708,921 new U.S. cancer cases were reported in 2018. It’s the second leading cause of death after heart disease.
In 2019, 599,601 people died of cancer. The most common causes of death were lung cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer.
To Date, Cancer Moonshot Has Received $1.8 Billion in Funding
The Cancer Moonshot initiative was first launched by Biden in 2016, when he was vice president serving in the Obama administration. In 2015, Biden’s son Beau Biden died of brain cancer at age 46, an event the president has said fueled his passion for cancer research and prevention, according to Reuters.
At its launch, the Cancer Moonshot outlined three goals: to accelerate scientific discovery in cancer, foster greater collaboration, and improve the sharing of data, according the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The program has focused on areas of cancer research that will most likely benefit patients as a result of new investment, bringing together a large community of investigators and clinicians who are dedicated to expediting research to improve the lives of people with cancer and their loved ones, per NCI.
Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act in December 2016, authorizing $1.8 billion in funding for the Cancer Moonshot over seven years, and about $400 million has not yet been allocated, according to a New York Times report. There were no new funding commitments announced today, though senior officials stated that there would be “robust funding going forward.”
A Call to Action on Cancer Screenings Missed During the Pandemic
The president and first lady Jill Biden also announced a call to action on cancer screening to jump-start progress on the estimated 9.5 million cancer screenings missed in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to address healthcare inequities in the prevention, detection, and diagnosis of cancer.
“We know that the best way to deal with cancer is to prevent it or detect it before it has spread and become extremely dangerous,” says Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, the director of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center and a professor of medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.
“We know that cancer screenings save lives. The pandemic has caused people to defer important screenings such as mammography, colonoscopy, and, for smokers, lung CT scans.
“We are fearful that an epidemic of ‘upstaging’ — detecting cancers later and in more dangerous form, awaits us,” says Dr. Neel.
Several studies have highlighted the dangerous gaps in cancer screening and diagnosis, including research published December 6, 2021, in the journal Cancer. Using data from Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country, the study found that compared with yearly averages in 2018 and 2019 as a baseline, the number of completed colonoscopies dropped by 45 percent, proportions of prostate biopsies decreased by 29 percent, and cystoscopies for diagnosing bladder cancer decreased by 21 percent in 2020.
The study's researchers estimated that new diagnoses for prostate, lung, colorectal, and bladder cancers among the veterans whose data was analyzed also dropped by 13 percent in 2020.
Project Moonshot Will Work to Address Inequities in Cancer Care
Regardless of the pandemic, it's important to make sure that everyone gets screened appropriately for cancer, particularly the underserved who often lag behind, says Neel.
Although cancer incidence and mortality for all population groups is declining, certain racial and ethnic groups and people who live in certain parts of the United States continue to be at an increased risk of developing or dying of various types of cancer compared with non-Hispanic whites, according to NCI.
For example, despite similar rates of breast cancer, Black women are more likely than white women to die of the disease.
It's also critical that we develop better methods for screening and better understand who is at risk, so doctors can personalize prevention the way they have been personalizing therapy, says Neel.
Moonshot Will Include the Creation of a New White House Cancer Cabinet
Biden announced plans for the creation of a White House Cancer Cabinet, which will bring multiple government departments and agencies together to set an agenda for improving cancer detection and prevention.
A Cancer Moonshot Summit is also in the works, though no date has been set. The meeting will bring together biopharmaceutical companies, patient organizations, research institutions, and healthcare communities to share progress and information with a goal of improving cancer treatment and prevention.