Dialogue Backstage Pass: Innovations in cancer prevention and early detection with Drs. Edmonds, Montealegre and Shaukat

Summit 2 of the Prevent Cancer Dialogue, “Harnessing the Power of Innovation to Improve Cancer Prevention and Early Detection,” is on June 28, 2023, and is the second in a two-part series aimed at increasing awareness of the importance of innovation and health equity.

Without systems driving us forward to ignite change, existing disparities and the number of cancers found in late stages are likely to remain stagnant or even worsen. To decrease health inequities and reduce cancer mortality, we need innovations that detect more cancers early and are accessible to everyone.

We asked three of our speakers, Dr. Christine Edmonds of the Hospital of University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jane Montealegre of MD Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Aasma Shaukat of NYU School of Medicine, to discuss some of those innovations and how they can address health disparities and improve cancer screening and prevention. The following is a sample of their responses:


Q: How will the innovation you are discussing improve cancer prevention and early detection and what opportunities for improvement does it have for medically underserved communities?   


Dr. Shaukat on blood tests to detect colorectal cancer: The availability of a blood test will potentially make it easier to complete colon cancer screening, as it can be coupled with other routine blood draws and [is] one less step for patients. Only those with a positive test will need [a] colonoscopy, and we can spend our efforts and resources getting them scheduled. I hope this will boost adherence to screening, which currently falls short of the goal of 80% adherence across all populations. Adherence is lower in underserved communities, and an easier option of a blood draw has potential to boost uptake of screening in these populations, along with navigation to colonoscopy for those with abnormal test.

Dr. Montealegre on at-home tests for HPV: Home-based self-sampling for human papillomavirus (HPV) will be transformative in improving access to and uptake of cervical cancer screening. For a sizeable portion of the population, and in underserved communities especially, clinic-based screening involving a pelvic exam is inaccessible and/or unacceptable for [a] myriad reasons—inadequate access to care, embarrassment, discomfort, lack of time. Self-sampling circumvents these barriers by allowing individuals to collect their own sample in the comfort of their homes. This opens doors for rethinking how we implement cervical cancer screening.

Q: What drew you to your work in cancer prevention and early detection? 


Dr. Edmonds: Breast cancer is so treatable when diagnosed at early stages and has improved outcomes as compared to breast cancers diagnosed at advanced stages. Unfortunately, there are significant race- and ethnicity-based disparities in breast cancer stage at [the time of] presentation, as well as marked mortality disparities. These factors are key motivators for my clinical work, my community outreach efforts among underserved populations and much of my research. In addition to improving screening access, it’s important that we continue to investigate and optimize strategies to provide supplemental screening of women with dense breasts and to better identify the subsets of patients who warrant supplemental screening.

Dr. Montealegre: Cervical cancer is a disease of inequity. As a society, we have all the tools we need for its prevention—a vaccine against its cause, effective screening tests and curative treatments for pre-cancerous lesions. The stark disparities we observe in the burden of disease truly reflect underlying social inequities, structural racism and historic marginalization. I think I was drawn to cervical cancer, in a way, because we won’t be able to eliminate the disease without dismantling some of the structural inequalities underneath.


Don’t miss Summit 2 of
Prevent Cancer Dialogue:

Harnessing the Power of Innovation to Improve Cancer Prevention and Early Detection

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June 28, 2023