Thursday, February 3, 2022

Biden pushes program to cut cancer death rate by 50 percent; experts say it just won't work

Experts doubt President Biden's plan to cut the cancer death rate in half will be that effective.

In a story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Gina Kolata in The New York Times today, those experts say his cancer "moonshot" program, which is to take 25 years, simply can't “so profoundly reduce the age-adjusted death rate, which accounts for expectations that older people are more likely to grow ill and die.”

The White House, the article continues, “billed the event as a fresh push by the president to ‘reignite’ the moonshot program” he initiated and presided over as vice president. The new push, it was claimed, would “end cancer as we know it.” 

But Biden did not offer specifics on how his goal would be achieved.

Part of the initiative will be “a campaign to urge Americans to undergo screenings that were missed during the coronavirus pandemic,” Stolberg and Kolata’s piece indicates.
In addition, Biden plans to create a new “cancer cabinet” to coordinate multiple government agencies and spearhead the fight against the disease.
Danielle Carnival, who worked on the moonshot program during Barack Obama’s administration, will help oversee the supercharged effort.
The Times article insists that “more screenings are not the answer — the only cancers for which screening has indisputably lowered the death rate are colon and cervical.”
Donald A. Berry, Ph.D.
Death rates for other cancers, like breast, have fallen, “but a large part of the drop, if not all of it, is because of improved treatment,” the story quotes Donald A. Berry, a Ph.D. biostatistician at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center who has spent decades studying these issues.

He also contends that “everybody loves early detection, but it comes with harms” — principally, the article goes on, the harm of finding and treating tumors that do not need to be treated because they are innocuous. “The harms we know, but the benefits of screening are very uncertain,” Berry again is quoted.

If the age-adjusted cancer death rate were to plunge by 50 percent, it would have to be because cancers were being cured, Stolberg and Kolata maintain. "Some treatments, like a drug that treats chronic myelogenous leukemia, have slashed death rates for that disease, but such marked effects in cancer are few and far between."

In contrast, according to their piece, Ellen V. Sigal, founder of Friends of Cancer Research, which works to support cancer research and deliver new therapies to patients, who was briefed on the plan, says, “These are audacious goals, and I have no doubt there will be mechanisms to achieve them.”
The article also quotes anonymous senior administration officials who pledged that although no new funding commitments would be announced, there would be “robust funding going forward.” 
Biden, it should be remembered, has a personal interest in cancer research; in 2015, his son Beau died of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. The next year, Obama called on the then-vice president to lead the moonshot program with, according to Stolberg and Kolata, “a goal of making ‘a decade’s worth of advances in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment’ in five years.”

At the time, Congress authorized $1.8 billion over seven years; roughly $400 million of that money has yet to be allocated. The National Cancer Institute, which oversees the initiative, says it has already spent $1 billion on more than 240 research projects.

The current White House says more than 9.5 million cancer screenings were missed in the United States because of Covid-19.
More details on the original cancer "moonshot" can be found in “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer,” a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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