Moonshot Update: Translating Anti-Cancer Initiatives Into Action

Vice President Biden unleashed something — excitement and enthusiasm — by calling on us to ask ourselves the questions we were always afraid to ask. 
When Deborah Mayer, Ph.D., RN, AOCN, FAAN, was a young oncology nurse, she met a patient with sarcoma who clearly expressed her expectations for care.

“I expect my doctor to try to cure me,” the patient told Mayer, who is now a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor in the School of Nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill. “But if nobody has asked me how I slept or when I last moved my bowels, then the time you’re buying me is not worth living.”

Mayer took that conversation as a call to action, never forgetting the importance of symptom management. Recently, she relied on her passion for and knowledge about the subject when she sat on former Vice President Joe Biden’s Blue Ribbon Panel that helped shape the Moonshot initiative, a national endeavor to make 10 years’ worth of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment within half that time. The panel helped inform Biden’s task force and the National Cancer Advisory Board about what should be included in the Moonshot.

Mayer, who served on the panel’s Implementation Science Working Group, offered a glimpse into the process of planning and rolling out the Moonshot in a talk at the 42nd Annual Congress of the Oncology Nursing Society, held May 4-7 in Denver, Colorado.

Overall, Mayer said she is thrilled about the energy the initiative has brought to the issue of cancer prevention, research and care.

“Vice President Biden unleashed something — excitement and enthusiasm — by calling on us to ask ourselves the questions we were always afraid to ask,” she said.

Accelerating Progress

The biggest challenge panel members faced when they met from April through August of 2016 was the charge to focus only on initiatives that would lead to accelerated progress, Mayer said.

Her working group, one of seven, contributed a recommendation aimed at boosting the use of cancer prevention and screening strategies, but, due to Biden’s charge, had to choose some areas in need of attention over others.

“We did not include obesity,” which is a risk factor for many cancers but can’t be widely diminished without “20 to 30 years of interventions and population studies,” Mayer said. “We also took integrative therapies off the table, instead focusing on what would bring us the biggest return on the investment.”

Ultimately, their recommendation was to advance the implementation of evidence-based cancer prevention and screening interventions across the country in three target areas: human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, colorectal cancer (CRC) screening and tobacco control. Beyond reducing cancer risk overall, the better implementation of these preventive measures will reduce health disparities between various populations of patients, the working group agreed.

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