Guest Column: American Cancer Society launches public education campaign

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The American Cancer Society—rated by Gallup as the nation’s most trusted health care organization—is taking a bold and, we believe, necessary step this fall. We are attempting to make you aware of a situation that we think you will care about and, perhaps, cause you to join us in demanding solutions.

Despite our 94 years of relentless work in research, prevention, early detection science, awareness, education and assisting patients and families facing cancer; and despite the recent two-year downturn in actual cancer deaths for the first time since public health records have been kept in the United States, it is the American Cancer Society’s conclusion that, sadly, America will not eradicate cancer as a major health problem unless we all work to solve one of our greatest societal challenges—the 47 million uninsured and millions more underinsured in our country.

Specifically, unless we as American citizens, community and business leaders in partnership with our elected leaders resolve to find solutions to break down the barrier of accessing life-saving prevention, early detection and cancer treatment, we will see cancer unnecessarily become the No. 1 killer of Americans.

Given the progress we have made in prevention, early detection and life-saving cancer treatments that continue to push the survival rates higher and higher, the American Cancer Society finds this situation intolerable.

This week, the American Cancer Society launched a major nationwide, non-partisan public education campaign to call attention to the urgent need to solve this difficult problem. This campaign does not promote a particular policy or political agenda. We will focus a spotlight on the challenges faced by cancer patients who have no health insurance or whose coverage is inadequate to cover the costs of their care.

The American Cancer Society has a proud history of developing or helping to nurture every major advance in the cancer fight since our founding in 1913. Our leadership in research, education, advocacy and patient services is unparalleled. And yes, we will continue to deploy our resources on all these fronts in our comprehensive fight as the nation’s leading cancer organization.

However, we have come to the sobering conclusion that our collective efforts and momentum in our quest to solve the cancer problem for America will be compromised if we, as a nation, cannot solve the health care access problem.

Recent research published in our peer-reviewed journal Cancer has shown that people who are uninsured are more likely to be diagnosed with more advanced cancers compared to those with insurance coverage. As a result, these individuals are at greater risk of death. And these patients face much more difficult and far more expensive medical treatments, as well as diminished quality of life.

We also know that nearly half of uninsured cancer patients said they used up all or most of their savings as a result of the cost of cancer. Strikingly, one in five insured cancer patients said they used up all or most of their savings. And four in 10 uninsured and underinsured cancer patients report skipping treatments, cutting pills or avoiding filling prescriptions because of cost.

So, what are we doing about these issues? Today, the American Cancer Society sees this challenge manifest itself every day as we serve cancer patients and their families with no or inadequate health insurance. Our innovative Patient Navigation Services provide information about cancer, answers to financial and insurance questions, help with transportation, resources and lodging during treatment, and hope and support from others who have been in their situation. Yes, we are making a difference for people. But we need to do more to win the fight.

To find out more about what we are doing, visit or call us at 1-800-ACS-2345.

Clement Rose, M.D., is president of the American Cancer Society-Illinois Division.

from the Oct. 10, 2007, issue

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