Fighting Cancer With The Best Resources Technology Offers
by U.S. Representative Barbara Cubin
It is hard to find a family in Wyoming that has not in some way been affected by cancer. The tremendous medical advances of our lifetime have made it entirely possible to survive the disease, but scourges like cervical cancer and colorectal cancer continue to cause untold pain and suffering to their victims. I remain committed to supporting cutting-edge technologies so that when patients go to the doctor's office for a routine screening, they know they are getting the best medical care the world has to offer.
Unfortunately, cumbersome federal bureaucracies do not always keep up with the latest scientific advances. Pathologists contribute vitally to preventing cervical cancer by reading Pap tests. Surprisingly though, they are tested for proficiency based on federal regulations that are 15 years old. This means that the last time these regulations were updated, the internet was in its infancy and cell phones were about the size of a brick. Just think of the advancements we have seen in the medical community in the past 15 years.
This week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Cytology Proficiency Improvement Act, legislation endorsed by the College of American Pathologists. I am a cosponsor of this bill, which integrates recent technological advances into the cytology proficiency testing program, including the use of digital imaging and computer-assisted screening. Women who are diagnosed and treated in the early stages of developing cervical cancer have a 92 percent survival rate. It is imperative that pathologists keep their diagnostic skills cutting-edge.
New technologies not only improve the quality of care, but also make procedures more comfortable. Anyone who has had a colonoscopy, the primary screening test for colorectal cancer, knows how incredibly uncomfortable the exam is. Patients must use pain medicine and sedatives for this procedure, which can last up to an hour.
A groundbreaking new procedure commonly called "Virtual Colonoscopy" uses x-rays and computers to produce two- and three-dimensional images of the colon. The exam takes around ten minutes, is minimally-invasive, does not require a sedative, and costs roughly one-third as much as the traditional procedure. Moreover, the risk of colon tears is almost non-existent.
I have worked with the medical community to draft and introduce the Virtual Screening for Cancer Act of 2007 (H.R. 4879). This bill makes Virtual Colonoscopy available under Medicare, a move that will save lives by getting more people screened. Colorectal cancer kills over 50,000 people annually, which is tragic considering that the disease is almost always curable when screening catches it early. In 2007 alone, Wyoming had an estimated 260 new cases of colorectal cancer.
Covering Virtual Colonoscopies under Medicare will not only save lives, it will also save taxpayer dollars. The more patients who receive a Virtual Colonoscopy at $1200 per exam means that fewer will get sick and incur the $45,000-$100,000 cost necessary for surgery, chemotherapy and doctor visits.
The American Cancer Society now recommends Virtual Colonoscopy as a cancer screening option. Additionally, the Colorectal Cancer Coalition has endorsed my legislation. The cancer community has spoken loudly and clearly on this issue, and I am proud to lead the charge in the House of Representatives. Whether the illness is cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, or any other ailment plaguing Wyoming's citizens, I am committed to working with the medical community to put research into practice with the ultimate hope to save more lives.