In the Pink founder: Why early detection is crucial in the fight against cancer

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For the more than 152,000 people in our state who will likely be diagnosed with cancer this year, you could not be in a better state than Florida for support. We have outstanding medical facilities throughout the state. Our first lady, Casey DeSantis, has launched Florida Cancer Connect to link patients with coverage and treatment options.

Also, our nonprofit community is impassioned and strong. Organizations like In the Pink, founded in 2009, are helping people in need with items needed before, during and after treatment.

Despite all these efforts and advances in cancer treatment, an estimated 47,000 Floridians will still die of cancer this year. As someone who has waged this battle twice and survived, I can say with confidence that the only way we will reverse this grim statistic is to diagnose and treat cancer early. Thanks to recent advances in medical science, cancer screening technology is evolving rapidly to address an enormous critical need.

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Incredible progress is being made in new blood tests that can detect dozens of types of cancer just by looking at a blood sample. If put into widespread use, this can be a game-changer in the fight to reduce the burden of cancer. I was one of the fortunate ones. Both of the cancers I have survived, cervical and breast, can be detected through conventional screening technologies.

However, there are many cancers such as ovarian, stomach, liver, kidney and many others, for which conventional screening is not possible. In fact, most cancer deaths (seven of every 10) are from typically unscreened cancers.

Unfortunately, there is a big problem. Without Congressional action, seniors in Florida will be waiting years upon years for access to these breakthroughs in cancer detection. The laws governing Medicare do not allow the program to cover tests like these in any reasonable timeframe, even if they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective. It is critical that the public have widespread access to multi-cancer early detection, particularly those seniors enrolled in Medicare, who are at the greatest risk of cancer.

Thankfully, legislation has been introduced in Congress to resolve this problem. The Nancy Gardner Sewell Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act (H.R 2407) would create a pathway for Medicare to include coverage of multi-cancer detection tests for all eligible beneficiaries.

This legislation has been enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of lawmakers and hundreds of prominent advocacy organizations. We are grateful that a large bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats within Florida’s Congressional delegation have stepped up. Their support will be needed again this year to get this bill over the finish line. Florida Representatives Neal Dunn (R-2nd District), Greg Steube (R-17th District), Vern Buchanan (R-16th District), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-20th District) and John Rutherford (R-5th District) have already added their names as co-sponsors of this legislation and I hope our full Congressional Delegation follows in their footsteps.

We are doing everything we can in Florida to provide essential support to those struggling with cancer. What these Floridians need most though, are tools to detect cancer early. Scientists are doing their job and if our elected officials do theirs, perhaps one day we will change the face of cancer into a manageable condition rather than being viewed as a prelude to death.

Jeri Millard is the CEO and founder of In the Pink, a Jacksonville Beach-based nonprofit caring for people with all types of cancer.

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