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HHS announces National Cancer Plan

The Cancer Plan calls out the need for secure, interoperable data exchange as a key building block for success.
By admin
Apr 6, 2023, 11:48 AM

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute (NCI), has released a new National Cancer Plan intended to guide the nation’s next steps toward “ending cancer as we know it.” 

Building off the existing Cancer Moonshot, the plan establishes eight major goals to guide collaboration across the whole of society with the objective of preventing cancer, maximizing the quality of life for people living with cancer, and ultimately reducing mortality from cancer and its complications. 

“The President’s Cancer Moonshot has galvanized the goal of advancing the fight against cancer,” said Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, Director of the National Cancer Institute. “The National Cancer Plan is a vision and a roadmap for how we can make faster progress against this all-too-common disease. By working together, we can achieve the Cancer Moonshot goal of reducing the cancer death rate by 50% within 25 years.” 

The eight pillars of the plan include: 

  1. Preventing cancer by adopting proven strategies that reduce the risks of cancer development 
  1. Detecting cancer earlier with more proactive screenings and effective treatments for early-stage disease 
  1. Developing effective treatments with minimal side effects that are accessible to people with all types of cancers 
  1. Eliminating inequities in access to care and outcomes, particularly focusing on known disparities that exist along socioeconomic lines 
  1. Delivering optimal care to all people in an evidence-based, patient-centered manner 
  1. Engaging every person in research by eliminating barriers to participation in clinical trials and other scientific activities 
  1. Maximizing data utility through the private, secure sharing of data throughout the scientific community 
  1. Optimizing the cancer workforce to reflect the communities served and meet the needs of all people with cancer or at risk of developing cancer 

Interoperable data exchange – and the expanded use of “real-world data” from EHRs and other sources – will be crucial to meeting all of these goals. Access to adequate amounts of standardized, complete, longitudinal health data is essential for identifying and addressing cancer risks and community-based disparities, fostering innovative research, and developing a continuously learning health system. 

The document specifically calls out the need to “enable frictionless data sharing throughout all of cancer research and develop tools that optimize data use and analysis to achieve rapid progress” as a high-priority strategy, adding that clinical and research stakeholders will need to “build and maintain a unified Cancer Research Data Ecosystem that enables the routine collection, integration, harmonization, distribution, and reuse of data from a broad range of research studies in a secure, patient privacy–protected environment” if they are to see shared success. 

However, the current state of cancer data and data sharing leaves something to be desired, the report states.   

“It is important to acknowledge that, currently, deficits exist in the collection and formatting of medical data in EHRs that limit their research potential, and these issues must be corrected to maximize the use of this data source,” the plan says.   

These deficiencies make it difficult to harness the potential of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, which are “only as good as the data they are trained on.” 

To overcome these challenges, leaders must collaborate on defining and adhering to more robust standards of data governance and stewardship, as well as creating standards-based, interoperable infrastructure to “equitably and responsibly” collect and share data assets that reflect the experiences and needs of real-world populations. 

NCI is already deeply engaged in this work, the agency notes. “For example, the Cancer Moonshot created the Cancer Research Data Commons and combined it with an existing Genomic Data Commons to provide platforms that make data generated through Cancer Moonshot initiatives and other NCI research programs available to the broadest possible research community.”  

“These data resources have expanded over the past decade and now provide a cloud-based data science infrastructure connecting data sets with analytical tools and services. The Cancer Research Data Commons and Genomic Data Commons currently contain genomic, proteomic, imaging, and clinical trials data and provide a cancer data service and data aggregator.” 

NCI is also continuing its 50-year commitment to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program, which collects and disseminates data on cancer incidence, mortality, and survivorship across many cancer types.  

With more interoperable and accessible data at hand, clinicians, researchers, pharmaceutical developers, and other partners will be able to tackle the other goals of the new plan, including addressing health disparities, expanding more equitable participation in clinical trials, and developing new prevention strategies and breakthrough therapies for cancers of all types. 

“To succeed in ending cancer as we know it, we must apply the knowledge gained through research at many levels throughout our complex society,” the document concludes. “Because of this, the National Cancer Plan is not solely focused on research but is a framework that promotes collaboration among all stakeholders that is required to ensure that every person with cancer lives a full and active life and that most people never have to face the challenge of a cancer diagnosis.”  

“With the National Cancer Plan, we will accelerate progress through collaborations that leverage all available resources and sustain communication between all partners to share knowledge gained and continuously update goals as we achieve progress.” 

Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry.  Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.  She can be reached at jennifer@inklesscreative.com.

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