Approximately 8,100 Idahoans will be diagnosed with cancer this year and roughly 2,700 residents will die from it. Cancer is the leading cause of death in Idaho, so we can’t let another year go by without taking critical steps to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.
I recently joined dozens of cancer survivors and their families for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Idaho Day at the Capitol to fight cancer. State Sens. Jim Patrick and Fred Martin and state Rep. Patrick McDonald and I discussed broadening access to care, easing the burden of cancer patients and simultaneously increasing cancer screenings and decreasing tobacco consumption.
About 78,000 hardworking, low-income Idahoans fall in the “coverage gap,” where they don’t qualify for Medicaid and cannot afford private insurance. Without insurance, people are less likely to get recommended cancer screenings that can prevent some cancers. They’re more likely to be diagnosed with cancer at later stages when it’s more costly to treat and less likely to be cured. By redesigning Medicaid, Idaho can help more people access preventative screenings, tobacco cessation programs and cancer treatments. It can also save the state roughly $173 million over the next decade that could be spent on other programs.
Another critical step in our fight against cancer involves easing the burden on patients. One way to do this is to ensure physicians are notified about biosimilar substitutions for cancer treatments. Biosimilars, which are interchangeable with biologic drugs, are not generic drugs, so special efforts are needed to ensure doctors are notified. Rep. Christy Perry is sponsoring a bill that would ensure provider notification and help ease the burden on cancer patients.
Finally, we must increase lifesaving cancer screenings while decreasing tobacco usage. Idaho ranks 50th for breast cancer screenings and 51st for cervical cancer screenings. These are two of the most preventable and treatable cancers if found early, so it’s vital that women have access to pap smears and mammograms and know about their importance.
Idaho also has high smoking rates among low-income women. Using tobacco increases a woman’s risk for 13 types of cancer, including cervical cancer, and may be linked to breast cancer. Idaho must simultaneously increase rates of pap smears and mammograms, while decreasing tobacco consumption.
The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee recently accepted the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network grant request to provide free communication and outreach tools to fellow Idahoans who need these services. This project will educate Idaho’s most vulnerable women about the tobacco-cancer connection, the need for these important cancer screenings and how to access smoking cessation tools to quit this deadly addiction. Reducing tobacco use will prevent one out of every three cancer deaths.
Let’s do everything we can to ease the pain and suffering from cancer and prevent future deaths.
Aaron Bishop is an American Cancer Society Great West Division board member and Boise resident.