Biden's 'Moonshot' – in the dark or reality?
On Feb. 2, 2022, President Biden “reignited” the Cancer Moonshot, a program he started in 2016, one year after he lost his son, Beau, to an aggressive brain tumor. The goal: Halve cancer deaths in 25 years. Is he, or the science, grounded in reality?
Maybe, but you and I need to lend a hand.
Here’s the current cancer landscape in the U.S.: About half of us (40%) will develop cancer in our lifetimes; of those diagnosed, half (20%) will die from it.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease.
If we look closer at the data: the No. 1 killer is lung cancer, followed by colon, breast, prostate. In 20 years, things will change. Experts predict lung cancer will remain the No. 1 killer, followed by pancreatic cancer, liver/bile duct cancer, and colon cancer.
Paradoxically, cancer deaths have dropped by 27% in the 20 years between 1996 and 2016. It’s half a Moonshot without calling it.
How did we do it? We had a successful anti-tobacco campaign, better cancer screening, and treatments.
Today we have effective screening tests for lung, breast, prostate, colon, and cervical cancers. Screening tests are en route to eliminate some cancers completely. For example, in the early 1900s, cervical cancer was the No. 1 cancer killer for women. Today, we have a few thousand cervical cancer deaths each year – if properly screened, all those deaths are likely preventable.
We have vaccines for cancers. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine reduces cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal, throat cancers. The Hepatitis B vaccine reduces liver cancer. Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which, since the old days, has been used to boost TB immunity, now is used to fight early-stage bladder cancer. Guess what: The billions of dollars the government and private industry have poured into developing the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology is going to pay off big in our cancer fights.
In addition, the Moonshot wants to tackle uncommon cancers (like childhood cancer), improve immunotherapy, and fancy 3D genetic maps.
From what I can see, the bigger worry of Moonshot experts is not the lofty goals, but financing.
I believe in the Moonshot. I believe our government should put serious money into research – and fix health care disparities. But I also believe we – you and I – need to do our part.
The American Cancer Society concludes that 42% of all cancers are preventable. Half of these cancers are preventable by stopping smoking, the other half by living healthier like increasing fresh fruits and vegetables in our diet, exercising, losing weight, moderating drinking. That is, to best dodge the cancer bullet, start the treadmill.