Opinion: Prioritizing cancer prevention and early detection saves lives and money

The problem with American society is that we place more importance on treating the patient than curing them.

With roughly 18 million people diagnosed with cancer each year, almost 14,000 of whom are here in Utah, there’s no way to deny that cancer is, without doubt, a public health issue. And it’s one that we can help prevent, whether it be through HPV vaccines, prostate exams or annual breast MRIs.

Prevention is key — but it’s not being offered to the public in a way that is accessible or well-known.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most deadly form of cancer in Utah, and the most frequently diagnosed. A prostate exam takes less than a minute to perform and yet, according to the National Institute of Health, only about 30% of men who should be getting an annual prostate exam actually do so.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer among women in Utah, and only 60% of women aged 45 and older are getting a regular mammogram, ranking Utah 47th in the country.

It is estimated that between 30% to 50% of cancer deaths could be prevented, and access to cancer screenings, more affordable costs and widespread education on the importance of cancer prevention is the way to make that happen.

Additionally, many people live with a mutation that predisposes them to many different preventable forms of cancer, but don’t know it. To me, this is not only heart breaking but also infuriating. Some people, myself included, carry a mutation of what is known as a “repair gene” which prevents the average person from developing cancer. When these become mutated, the individual is then at a much greater risk of developing certain types of cancer, depending on which marker the mutation sits. One of the most well-known repair genes are BRCA1, BRCA2 and CDH1, which pose an increased risk of hereditary breast, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Roughly 10% of all cancers developed are related to a mutation of the repair gene. If someone were to take one of the simple genetic tests and receive a positive result, they could then have a variety of preventative surgeries to drastically reduce or eliminate their risk of developing cancer. This means that almost 2 million people diagnosed with cancer each year could have been tested and given the opportunity to save their life.

While simple, this genetic testing isn’t always affordable.

When I was going through testing, I saw that the cost of this testing can be as much as $6,000 without insurance. With insurance, it can still cost hundreds of dollars.

When one considers that nearly 25% of people with cancer are at least $10,000 in debt from their treatment, this cost begins to seem small relative to the other possibilities one could be faced with regard to their healthcare. I am advocating not only to give everyone the ability to gain life-saving knowledge, but for the affordability and increased accessibility of doing so.

In addition to the tragic number of lives lost to cancer, the treatment and diagnosis of cancer places massive economic burden on societies across the world, and the United States is no exception. According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, in 2015, the U.S. spent $190 billion on cancer treatment. It goes without saying that if we, as a society, were able to educate more people about the importance of preventive care and lower the cost of screenings, it would provide us with a long-term outcome of billions of dollars that we could allocate to other countless needs in our nation.

The problem with American society is that we place more importance on treating the patient than curing them. Curing the patient does not make money, treating them does. With this, it should be glaringly obvious where our priorities lie as a nation, and this, more than anything else, is what needs to change.

Mairin Smith

Mairin Smith is a master’s student at the University of Utah who is passionate about enacting change in their local community, particularly with regard to cancer care and prevention.

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