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Sunday Talk: Grassley on Cancer Prevention Month

Q: What’s your message to Iowans during National Cancer Prevention Month?

A: Although society has made strides in recent decades to prevent and treat cancer, the disease remains the second leading cause of death in the United States. Three words no one wants to hear were delivered to nearly two million Americans last year: “You have cancer.” I encourage Iowans during National Cancer Prevention Month to be proactive and take charge of your health. Don’t ignore warning signs – such as a lump, an abnormal mole or bloody stools – hoping they’ll just go away. Don’t skip routine screenings; if you’re behind, make an appointment today. Just think. It’s estimated more than 40 percent of the diagnoses and nearly half of cancer deaths can be attributed to preventable causes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the leading causes of cancer in the United States boil down to four preventable risk factors: cigarette smoking; overexposure to sun; obesity; and, excessive alcohol use. Another sobering statistic from the CDC tells us how close to home cancer is in U.S. households. One in three people will have cancer in their lifetime. By starting healthy habits today and keeping up on routine screenings, more lives can be saved through prevention and early detection. That includes younger generations. Notably, recent data signal a shift in colorectal cancer in younger adults. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended lowering the age for routine colorectal cancer screen to age 45. When I chaired the Senate Finance Committee, Congress updated Medicare benefits to gradually eliminate cost-sharing for patients with colorectal cancer screening tests where a polyp is detected and removed. In the 117th Congress, two bipartisan bills I co-sponsored were enacted to help cancer survivors, respectively. The Lymphedema Treatment Act will help Medicare cancer patients have access to compression therapy garments to prevent infections; and the Childhood Cancer Star Reauthorization Act will support research and survivor supports for young people affected by childhood cancer. During National Cancer Prevention Month, consider what Benjamin Franklin wrote about fire safety this month in the Pennsylvania Gazette back in 1735, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Making lifestyle changes can improve one’s quality of life and add another candle to your next birthday cake.

Q: What policies are you advancing this Congress for cancer prevention and detection?

A: During the pandemic, I pushed telehealth flexibilities that allowed patients, including oncology patients, to connect with providers. The expansion was met with widespread success and positive health outcomes, allowing patients to continue receiving care in locations closer to home, with convenient scheduling options and cost savings. Telehealth added value by stretching the health care dollar, empowering providers and providing vital services to patients. Des Moines University (DMU) was awarded a $2 million grant to boost its simulation center to train Iowa health care providers in telehealth technology. I had the opportunity to see that investment at work last year on the DMU campus.

Rural residents face challenges accessing specialists who practice hours away from their homes; making telehealth services permanent is a commonsense solution to connecting patients and providers. As then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I helped make mental telehealth a permanent Medicare benefit in 2020. Now, I’m working to make permanent additional telehealth flexibilities Congress has extended through the end of 2024. My bipartisan CONNECT for Health Act would make the existing temporary rules permanent under Medicare for hospitals and clinics. For oncology patients in particular, the flexible scheduling and reduced exposure to bustling medical centers filled with sick patients are a godsend. Although virtual cancer care can’t provide oncology treatments online, expanding telehealth to cover consults, discussing treatments and reviewing medical records can be a game changer for a busy family and older patients unable to drive to appointments that are hours away. My support for the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021 secured financing for broadband that will help rural health clinics provide telehealth services to patients.

In addition to beating the legislative drum for telehealth and working to add medical residency slots in Iowa, I’m leading the charge to cut red tape in Medicaid that would help pediatric patients, including oncology patients, access lifesaving treatments outside of their home state. Finally, I’ve not given up on my bipartisan crusade to lower prescription drug costs that would help pave the way for more affordable oncological treatments and care for cancer patients.

February is National Cancer Prevention Month. Sen. Grassley is a member of the Congressional Caucus on the Deadliest Cancers, Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus and Rural Broadband Caucus. His wife Barbara is a 37-year breast cancer survivor and member of the Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program.

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