Cancer Moonshot: Another giant leap
When I think of the giant leaps forward in cancer treatment, I think of how much has changed since I assumed leadership of Living Beyond Breast Cancer in 1996.
Back then we thought breast cancer was one disease. There were very few targeted treatments, and innovations that offered promise of our ability to someday cure certain types of breast cancers limped along — compared to now. Today, much progress has been made. Quality of life during and after cancer treatment has improved in many important ways. Yet I also think about the daily losses we experience in our community, people my staff and I become close to in our work: those living with and dying from metastatic breast cancer. I also think about the continued disparities that undermine outcomes at so many points.
On February 2, 2022, President Biden announced that the White House was re-igniting the Cancer Moonshot, the program he had led while vice president in the Obama administration. Under Biden’s direction, Cancer Moonshot, which began in 2016, had three goals: spur scientific breakthroughs; promote teamwork and partnerships; and boost information-sharing. The program received $1.8 billion in federal funding over the course of seven years to finish in 2021. Now, the new Cancer Moonshot has two simultaneous goals. It plans to slash the cancer mortality rate by 50 percent over the next 25 years and improve the quality of life for people and their families who are, and have been, impacted by cancer. President Biden is calling on a united front, enjoining all manner of organizations — from scientific, academic, medical/healthcare, patient advocacy, and more — to join the White House and shoulder the responsibility of mitigating the pernicious consequences of cancer and improving every stage of the cancer patient’s experience. When President Biden’s declared, “We can end cancer as we know it,” he meant it holistically.
Personally, the White House has been impacted by cancer. Beau Biden, the president’s son, died from glioblastoma, a brain cancer, in 2015. Vice President Kamala Harris’s mother, a breast cancer research scientist, died of colon cancer. After four close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1990s, First Lady Jill Biden became an advocate for breast cancer programs and opened the Biden Breast Health Initiative in Delaware. As President Biden said about Cancer Moonshot’s relaunch, “It’s one of the reasons why, quite frankly, I ran for President. Let there be no doubt: Now that I am President, this is a presidential White House priority — period.”
Cancer research has advanced expeditiously in the past 10 years — particularly with respect to the innovative technologies which reveal how cancer operates within tumors. Targeted treatments and treatments that are effective across multiple tumor types are becoming more common. Further advances will create new screening and diagnostic measures to detect cancer earlier and save countless lives by finding cancers when they are more treatable. Yet we recognize there is still so much more to do.
At LBBC, we know research must address preventing disease and improving treatments for early-stage and metastatic breast cancer. And there are other urgent matters the Cancer Moonshot must address. Though some are living longer than ever before, all people with metastatic breast cancer desperately need better treatments that deliver better outcomes, and they need those positive outcomes to be distributed across the diversity of people impacted by the disease. The financial toxicity of metastatic breast cancer makes some treatments prohibitive for many families, affecting both treatments and end-of-life options. How can we make that better? Racial and socio-economic disparities in care contribute significantly to devastating cancer outcomes. And last week we learned the data that Black women were 41 percent more likely to die from breast cancer — a worsening trend.
We must obtain equal access and quality care for all those impacted by breast cancer, and we must prioritize solutions to the disparities that drive some racial and ethnic groups to suffer more aggressive disease.
We should leverage the insights and achievements realized during the Covid-19 pandemic in public health science and technology to facilitate medical and psychosocial care of everyone living with cancer. From our decades of experience, we know that once a person has had breast cancer, the disease has impacts beyond the active treatment period or disease progression. Breast cancer can impact quality of life in the years beyond.
We understand that treatment has many impacts beyond disease progression which affect quality of life significantly. And we know, for those living with metastatic breast cancer, the struggle of fitting in with the broader breast cancer community, yet how vitally important community and support can be. We’re on board for President Biden’s “All hands on deck” call. A Cancer Moonshot needs to succeed for early-stage and metastatic patients, their families, and caregivers. There is much work to be done, and we pledge to support the Moonshot.
One way we can leverage the power of our community to support the Moonshot is by elevating your voices. Show your support of President Biden’s initiative by going to the White House’s website to share your ideas, stories, knowledge, and actions. Let the president know why the Moonshot is important to our Living Beyond Breast Cancer community.