“Early detection, improving supportive care and new treatments and therapeutics are all very important for cancer care.”
Dr. Jack Saux, medical oncologist at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, says these elements are key to improving cancer survivorship and reducing death rates by 50% over the next 25 years – an ambitious goal outlined by the federal government’s Cancer Moonshot program. President Joe Biden recently announced plans to relaunch this initiative on the heels of declining preventive care after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do the program’s supporters propose reaching this goal? By closing the gaps and providing equitable access to cancer screenings for all Americans.
Importance of Community Access In Cancer Care
Dr. Saux, also a member of Northshore Oncology Associates, says during the COVID-19 pandemic many people delayed cancer screenings and treatments because of restrictions, decreased access and lack of staffing available to fulfill demands. As individuals return to a pre-pandemic routine, physicians are seeing an increase in more developed, later stage cancers.
“For the past few years people were afraid to get screenings and less sites were available, so everything got pushed back,” Dr. Saux says. “There were delays in diagnosis and treatment, causing diseases to become more advanced. In the coming years, we will see a segment of the population with higher mortality rates from cancer due to the pandemic’s effects on prevention and early detection.”
The Cancer Moonshot initiative hopes to draw attention to this and provide funding to advance treatments and offset the pandemic’s effects – something Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center has been addressing head on with increased focus via safe mobile screenings.
Since 2002, the Cancer Center has provided free comprehensive prevention and screening services to places where people live and work. Prevention on the Go, a mobile medical clinic program, provides cancer prevention education and early detection services to catch cancer in its earliest stages when better treatment outcomes are more likely.
Families Pay It Forward With Increased Cancer Screenings
When Hillary Lanaux lost her battle with cancer, her family wanted to help others prevent the loss they experienced. “It was devastating. That’s the only word that can describe it,” says her mother, Hilda.
Hillary was treated by Dr. Saux at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington. He had also treated her grandfather years later and built a special bond with the entire family.
Hillary’s grandparents wanted to honor her memory and thank the Cancer Center for the support they received. They made a transformational gift to help fund Prevention on the Go on the Northshore and access to those in the community who may not otherwise have resources to receive cancer screenings and treatment.
Hilda says the family felt they could best honor Hillary by ensuring others diagnosed can quickly receive the care and support they need. “Almost every family experiences cancer with a loved one at some point,” she says. “This program helps people access screenings and ultimately have a better chance at surviving.”
Ben Blanchard’s family echoes the care they received from Dr. Saux and paying it forward through community support.
After a rare form of bone cancer took Ben’s life at age 33, his family created the Ben Blanchard Memorial Foundation, which supports free community screenings, including the annual Live Well Northshore event, as well as support services such as nutritional counseling, transportation and other emotional and financial needs.
Additionally, the Blanchard Foundation created a permanent source of funding to support patients in St. Tammany and Washington Parishes by establishing the Ben Blanchard Memorial Endowment Fund within the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Foundation, ensuring Ben’s legacy lives on and saves lives in perpetuity.
“A lot of people in our community don’t have the insurance or resources to get wellness checks,” says Ben’s father, Mark Blanchard. “Early detection can stop cancer. If you catch it early enough, you can save lives. That’s the bottom line.”
Innovation In Cancer Care: Research and Technology
The goal of reducing cancer deaths by 50% over the next 25 years is big, but according to Dr. Saux it’s realistic based on the innovation he’s experienced during his career. “We constantly have access to new medicines and continue to see novel approaches to treating cancers in ways that were only science fiction when I first started,” he says.
Dr. Saux says research is imperative to improving survivorship of cancer, and the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s clinical research program, offering participation in clinical trials for eligible patients, is a vital part of this initiative.
“Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center has a thriving research program that moves the future of cancer care forward by bringing new cancer treatments to each of the organization’s locations,” he says. Clinical trials advance cancer care by testing new treatments above and beyond the standard care, resulting in improved patient outcomes and survival rates.
Preventive screenings and early detection are important first steps at lessening the burden of cancer, and Dr. Saux believes the advancements in medicine place us on the verge of converting many fatal cancers into chronic illnesses. This gives more survival hope to many people.