ACS Commends President Biden’s Plan to Close Gaps in Cancer Screening

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) is pleased to support the President’s call for increasing cancer screening across the US and the plan’s four targeted goals to close gaps in screening.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, cancer screening requires immediate and continual attention to make up the lost ground for patients who declined or delayed screening appointments during the pandemic.

“Screening is one of our best strategies for detecting cancers early when the disease can be cured. If we find a cancer early, we have more options to treat and cure a patient,” said Heidi Nelson, MD, FACS, Medical Director of ACS Cancer Programs, which administers the Commission on Cancer, National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, and National Accreditation Program for Rectal Cancer.

“Surgeons play an essential role in the effort to end cancer as we know it through surgery, research, and constant pursuit of innovation to find cures.”

—Dr. Carol Brown

“It has been a particularly difficult few years for cancer care and screening in the US due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Nelson added, noting that there have been an estimated 9.4 million missed cancer screening tests across the US in 2020 alone.* Additionally, the Director of the National Cancer Institute projected that there may be 10,000 additional cancer deaths from breast and colorectal cancers due to screening that went missed during the pandemic.

“This is an incredibly important effort to improve access and equity for all patients with cancer,” said Carol Brown, MD, FACS, chief health equity officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, member of the ACS Board of Regents, and a former member of the Biden Cancer Initiative, who attended the announcement at the White House. “Surgeons play an essential role in the effort to end cancer as we know it through surgery, research, and constant pursuit of innovation to find cures.”

ACS and Return to Screening

To address issues surrounding delayed screenings, the ACS Cancer Programs collaborated with the American Cancer Society on a quality improvement initiative and clinical study to accelerate screening numbers in the US. By providing easy-to-adopt plans that leveraged existing guidelines, messaging, and interventions, ACS-accredited programs worked to increase access to, and participation in, crucial cancer screenings. When national resources were provided, including methods to calculate local screening deficits, 748 cancer programs enrolled in the national PDSA [plan-do-study-act] Project on Return to Screening Study and the majority identified local screening deficits, most notably in colorectal cancer. Using these results, 814 quality improvement projects were initiated, with the potential to add 70,000 screening tests per month in 2021.

“This boost in screenings won’t make up for all of the lost screenings during the pandemic, but we know it will help save lives. We had the teams, program standards, and a collaborative partner in place with the American Cancer Society to ramp up screenings around the US during a time when we really needed it. We anticipate releasing a peer-reviewed article about our national return to screening campaign soon,” said Dr. Nelson.

“We applaud the President’s commitment to increasing screening as part of his renewed effort to improve outcomes for cancer patients across the nation. We stand ready to do our part to support this critically important work. Our cancer screening efforts show how important it is to have a plan ready that’s hard-wired to deal with adverse circumstances, such as those we’ve encountered during the pandemic. While we don’t yet know what the full downstream effect will be from screening delays, we are confident that these efforts will make an impact and help improve outcomes for patients,” said ACS Executive Director Patricia L. Turner, MD, MBA, FACS. “The ACS welcomes the opportunity to join with other stakeholders in this collective effort to improve screenings, reduce disparities, and end cancer as we know it.”

*Chen RC, Haynes K, Du S, Barron J, Katz AJ. Association of cancer screening deficit in the United States with the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Oncol. 2021;7(6):878-884.

Sharpless NE. COVID-19 and cancer. Science. 2020;368(6497):1290.

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