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Cancer Policy Monitor: January 11, 2022

House passes PREVENT HPV Cancers Act

-Brandon Leonard, MA

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Promoting Resources to Expand Vaccination, Education and New Treatments for HPV Cancers (PREVENT HPV Cancers) Act of 2021 on November 30. The bill, which was introduced by Representatives Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Kim Schrier (D-WA), would create a national awareness campaign administered by the CDC to improve public understanding of HPV-related cancers and to increase HPV vaccinations rates. The bill would also reauthorize Johanna’s Law (also known as The Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act), which promotes educational programs on gynecologic cancers for health care providers and the general public. The PREVENT HPV Cancers Act would authorize $25 million over five years to implement its provisions. Following passage in the House, the PREVENT HPV Cancers Act has been referred to the Senate for consideration.

According to the CDC, HPV infection is associated with six types of cancer and is linked to nearly 36,000 cases of cancer in men and women each year. More than 90% of HPV-related cancers can be prevented through HPV vaccination. The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine as part of routine vaccination for children ages 11 through 12 and for anyone through age 26 who was not adequately vaccinated when they were younger. Adults ages 27-45 may decide to get the HPV vaccine in consultation with their health care provider.

AACR Submits Public Comments to Encourage CMS to Reimburse Providers for Smoking Cessation Counseling

-Calais Prince, PhD

In December 2021, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) submitted public comments on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) national coverage determination for lung cancer screening with low-dose computed tomography (LDCT). The AACR comment supported the CMS proposal to align coverage determinations with the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations for lung cancer screening, thus expanding the number of individuals who are eligible for free screening. However, the AACR raised concern because the CMS proposed decision memo proposed restricting reimbursement for evidence-based smoking cessation interventions at lung cancer screenings and independent diagnostic testing facilities. Additionally, the AACR strongly encouraged CMS to reimburse providers for smoking cessation counseling at both LDCT screenings and shared decision-making appointments.  

One of the best steps individuals who smoke can take to reduce their likelihood of developing cancer is to quit smoking.  The AACR will continue to support and advocate for patients with cancer and survivors of cancer seeking to quit smoking and tobacco use.

New Studies Emphasize Benefits of Third COVID-19 Vaccine Doses for Patients with Cancer

-Nicholas Warren, PhD

The novel Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is concerning health experts across the world due to being highly transmissible and its apparent ability to evade protection from two vaccine doses. In the United States and United Kingdom, the Omicron variant has already displaced Delta as the dominant variant. While preliminary findings suggest the Omicron variant is less likely to result in hospitalization, the far greater rate of infections and re-infections could continue the strain on health care systems. Additionally, there is significant concern for patients with cancer or others with compromised immune systems who may not respond as effectively as the general public to COVID-19 vaccines.

A recent large study in JAMA Oncology analyzed 184,485 patients with cancer cared for by the Veterans Affairs health system and the level of protection conferred by two vaccine doses through May 2021. Overall, two vaccine doses reduced the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection by 58%; patients who had not received anti-cancer therapy within six months before vaccination saw even greater benefit with an 85% reduced risk of infection. A second recent study in JAMA Oncology analyzed antibody responses among 37 patients with solid tumors and found a third vaccine dose significantly increased antibody levels targeting SARS-CoV-2 in all but one participant. These data are consistent with an October 2021 study in Cancer Cell that showed 32 of 49 patients (65%) with blood cancers had significantly increased antibody levels following a third dose, including 21 patients who did not have detectable antibodies from two doses. Similar to initial vaccine doses, the efficacy of a third dose to activate an antibody response was hindered by active cancer treatment, especially anti-B cell therapies.

Studies investigating how vaccines protect against the Omicron variant are just beginning to emerge. A pre-print study from scientists at Harvard and MIT, which as of writing is undergoing peer-review, investigated how effectively antibodies from 239 donors neutralized the Omicron variant. The authors found that antibodies from more than half of all people who received two vaccine doses were unable to neutralize the Omicron variant in cell culture. Fortunately, a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine increased the average neutralization ability against Omicron by approximately 100-fold.

These findings emphasize the importance for third COVID-19 vaccine doses to protect patients with cancer and mitigate the Omicron surge. With mounting evidence supporting the need for third doses, the AACR has advocated for patients with cancer, survivors, and their household members to receive additional doses.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Science Policy Releases Bioethics Funding Opportunity Announcement

The NIH is seeking to fund research on ethical considerations related to biomedical research and projects that support capacity building in bioethics. This opportunity applies to basic, translational, and clinical research and will support efforts that investigate ethical considerations surrounding emerging technologies, inform future policy directions, or developing capacity to further engage research participants as partners in research. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is interested in bioethics matters relevant to cancer research and health care delivery, such as issues raised in cancer clinical trials, cohort studies, cancer prevention studies, cancer centers, cancer surveillance, prospective biobanking, studies using previously collected samples or tissues, or studies re-using previously collected data. Applications will be accepted until March 17, 2022.

Available for Viewing – AACR Patient Advocate Forum 2021 Series

The four webcasts of AACR’s Patient Advocate Forum 2021 series are now available. Forums focus on precision medicine, immuno-oncology, big data/artificial intelligence, and how evolution shapes cancer. Special thanks to moderator Dr. Anna Barker for leading the development of this program. Topics for the 2022 series will be released soon. Watch video:

International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) Releases New Language Guide

IASLC Patient Advocate Committee Chair, and AACR Scientist↔Survivor Program® Patient Advocate, Jill Feldman led a discussion with co-contributors and AACR staff on the release of the new language guide. Developed with input from the patient advocacy community, the guide helps to address the stigmatization that patients with lung cancer often face. Read guide.