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Feds outdated cancer deaths for patients



When it comes to cancer protection, don't take the word of the government. Listen to the experts.

The biggest cancer killer is no smoking, environmental chemicals or even an inherited gene. It is a failure to search patients at high risk for the disease. To cure cancer means to detect it early while still being treated.

Blame a small, unelected national committee that does not include any experts who actually treat cancer patients. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, this committee has the power to dictate the cancer tests that must provide and influence its physician.

This committee, misnamed the American Task Force on Preventive Services, does not prevent cancer deaths. It works the other way around, discouraging screening.

President Donald Trump promises that, if re-elected, he will make tremendous progress in the fight against cancer. His first step should be to ensure that oncologists, radiologists and surgeons treating cancer patients are added to a task force located in the health and human services department. Cancer patients and their doctors deserve experts who call their illness shots.

Last week, a task force recommended a pancreatic cancer screening, the kind that killed tenor Luciano Pavarotti and astronaut Sally Ride. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek is currently battling it, and 57,000 Americans diagnose it every year. The task force gave pancreatic cancer a check of its worst grade, D, which means it doesn't need to. This is fine for the general population, but the task force has failed to explicitly recommend screening to people with a family history of pancreatic cancer. It's a deadly mistake.

Similarly, a task force has struggled over lung cancer screening, leading to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths a year.

Pancreatic cancer has a terrible survival rate of 9%, partly because it is diagnosed late, when it spreads too far to be surgically removed.

Dr. Diane Simeone, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at NYU's Pancreatic Cancer Center, explains that the task force should recommend screening for high-risk individuals. Who are they? Patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer or a blood test that indicates an inherited risk. Examination means getting an annual MRI or endoscopic pancreatic ultrasound. "If you look at someone and find something, the odds are that you can have surgery 80 to 90 percent."

The task force claims that these operations are dangerous. But Simeone suggests that the task force's data is outdated and some date back to 2003. "It's 2019 now," and the mortality rate at "highly experienced" medical centers for these procedures is less than 1%.

On Monday, scientists at Dana-Farber / Brigham and the Center for Women Against Cancer in Boston announced their findings of an additional inherited gene mutation that causes pancreatic cancer. It occurs in the RABL3 gene, and people carrying it should be screened. "Catching pancreatic cancer through screening of high-risk individuals" will make it curable, scientists explain.

Notice, Mr. President.

As for lung cancer, in 2011, the National Lung Cancer Trial made a breakthrough with the announcement that "screening with low-dose CT (computed tomography) reduced lung cancer mortality" by double-digit. Despite this compelling evidence, the task force has made a screening recommendation for current and former smokers only if they first consult their doctor about possible false positives and overtraining.

The request for counseling was the kiss of death for screening, because too few family doctors know the information and can afford the time.

Only 4% of people at high risk for lung cancer get screened. Dr Brendon Stiles, a thoracic surgeon at Weill Cornell, calls it "unconscious." At least 80% of lung cancer detected by CT scan is curable, compared to the current 19% overall survival of lung cancer.

Dr. Claudia Henschke, a CT scanner and director of lung cancer screening at Mount Sinai Hospital, reported to Congress on July 23, saying, "The scan can find lung cancers when they are still curable."

Trust in cancer experts, not your uncle's archaic tips. Americans deserve better.

Betsy McCaughey is the former Deputy Governor of New York. Contact her at betsy@betsymccaughey.com.


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