First lady Jill Biden toured Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio and praised its efforts in addressing disparities in cancer rates among Latinos.
The visit came Feb. 23, the same day as the opening of the biennial Advancing the Science of Cancer in Latinos conference, hosted by Mays Cancer Center and UT Health San Antonio’s Institute for Health Promotion Research, taking place at the Westin Riverwalk downtown.
At Mays Cancer Center, the first lady cast her visit as part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, which aims to reduce the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years, and improve the experience of patients and their families living with and surviving cancer. Ultimately, the goal is to “end cancer as we know it today.”
As one of only four National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in Texas, Mays is part of federal efforts to address the disease, including Cancer Moonshot. NCI director Ned Sharpless, MD, also joined the visit.
“Cancer really touches every single one of us, but it doesn’t affect every community in the same way,” Biden said, during a roundtable listening session after her tour. “And that’s why as a part of the Cancer Moonshot, I’m glad to learn today what we’re doing for the Latino community and what we will continue to do, and what you all are doing.”
One in three Latinos will face a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, pointing to disparities in access to care and other social needs, as well as screening and clinical trials. The first lady’s visit was seen as an important boost.
“The Mays Cancer Center is so deeply honored by the visit of first lady Dr. Jill Biden,” said Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP, the center’s executive director. “Her visit highlights the significant efforts of the Mays Cancer Center to increase advances in cancer treatment of Latino patients through clinical trials and research.”
More broadly, the first lady urged people not to let up on cancer detection and treatment.
“We’ve been in this COVID pandemic for two years, and so many people put off their screening,” she said. “And so now the numbers are rising. We’ve got to get them back down. Early detection is really the key.”
Upon her arrival, the first lady toured the infusion center at Mays Cancer Center, where patients are treated and undergo clinical trials. Discussions initially centered on an effort to reboot cancer screening during the pandemic. Patient Rainee Miller told Biden how that critical outreach led to her diagnosis, and subsequent therapy.
The first lady then learned about comprehensive programs at Mays centered on services ranging from nutrition and emotional support to medical services like cardio-oncology and cancer rehabilitation.
And a breast cancer survivor, Cynthia Orr, and her caregiver husband David, told Biden about innovative surgery she received here to treat lymphedema, which had caused severe swelling in her arm. Dr. Mesa said Mays Cancer Center is one of few places performing the procedure.
The roundtable discussion that followed focused on detection, screening and access to care, and included Dr. Mesa; Dr. Sharpless; Amelie Ramirez, DrPH, chair of UT Health San Antonio’s Department of Population Health Sciences and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research; San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg; and invited national guest speakers from the Advancing the Science of Cancer in Latinos conference.
The first lady, relating her and President Biden’s own personal story of their son Beau’s battle and death from cancer, said education is key. “We have to get the word out that people have to get screening, and early detection, and (know) where their cancer centers are, and who their patient advocates are.
“I’m really excited to hear about what you all are doing, and take it back to the White House,” she told the panel. “We’re trying to end cancer as we know it. And I think we can do it. I applaud all of you.”
See related media coverage:
Yahoo! News: Jill Biden meets cancer survivors, military families during Texas trip
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San Antonio Express-News: Jill Biden, in visit to UT Health San Antonio, says education can cut cancer rates
KENS 5: First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited cancer center, military families in San Antonio
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KSTX (Texas Public Radio): First Lady Jill Biden visits medical and military facilities in San Antonio
San Antonio Report: Jill Biden visits Mays Cancer Center as part of White House initiative to reduce cancer deaths