The Honorable Donald McEachin: Working to Remove Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening

Age: 57U.S. Representative Virginia’s 4th Congressional District
The Honorable Donald McEachin

Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. I know this because it saved mine. That is why I am dedicated to increasing awareness of and removing barriers to colorectal cancer screening. It is also why I am highly cognizant of the need for greater investment in cancer research. Whether it is the research focused on cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, or cure, the value of each federal dollar spent on research is immeasurable.

A routine colonoscopy led to my diagnosis with rectal cancer in 2014. I was devastated. I thought the future I had imagined was gone; I particularly remember thinking that I would lose the opportunity to dance at my children’s weddings. However, I was blessed because the cancer was caught at an early stage, before it spread to my lymph nodes or other parts of my body, and my treatment – a combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – was successful. I have been cancer-free ever since, and I am delighted to say that I got to dance at my son’s wedding this past October.

My experience with cancer provides me with deep insight into a number of healthcare-related issues and informs my work as a lawmaker.

One issue that I am passionate about is reducing the burden of colorectal cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined in the United States. In 2019 alone, approximately 51,000 Americans will die from the disease. We already have the tools to prevent many colorectal cancer deaths through early detection and removal of tissue that could become cancerous: preventive colorectal cancer screening colonoscopies. However, about one-third of all U.S. adults for whom colorectal cancer screening is recommended are not up to date with their screenings. The situation is even worse if we consider only African Americans, Hispanics, those who are uninsured, those who have public health insurance, or those who live in poverty. Therefore, we must make colorectal cancer screening more accessible to all.

One financial barrier to screening colonoscopies faced by Medicare beneficiaries is that Medicare currently does not pay the copay for the removal of a polyp(s) during a screening colonoscopy. The bipartisan, bicameral “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act of 2019,” which I proudly introduced together with Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. (D-NJ), Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL), and Congressman David McKinley, (R-WV), will eliminate this potential cost if it is enacted, making lifesaving colorectal cancer screening colonoscopies more accessible to Medicare beneficiaries.

My experience with cancer also made me acutely aware of the emotional, mental, and physical toll that cancer has on a person and his or her family. One worry that many cancer patients and families face is whether they can afford the treatments that will keep them alive. That is why I am delighted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I am a member, has made lowering prescription drug prices a top health priority.

In addition, my appreciation of the vital importance of federal investment in cancer research has been increased by my experience with cancer. In fact, funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is provided by the federal government, contributed in some way to the development of every single one of the 210 drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2010 and 2016, including numerous breakthrough drugs to combat cancer.

Our country has led the charge in eradicating polio, smallpox, and measles, and, in part because of federal funding, we have begun to make metastatic cancer chronic, not fatal. We still have far to go, but we must continue to build on the progress we have already made, and I am committed to doing all that I can to ensure Congress makes federal funding for cancer research a priority.

The AACR was saddened to learn that Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) passed away on November 28, 2022, due to complications from colorectal cancer.  We are profoundly grateful to Representative McEachin for sharing his experience with colorectal cancer in the 2019 AACR Cancer Progress Report and for his advocacy on breaking down barriers to cancer screening.  We offer our heartfelt condolences to his loved ones and colleagues.