Donald Payne Jr. lost his father to colon cancer. He wants to reduce barriers to screening.

Published: Apr. 11, 2022

It killed his father, Donald Payne Sr.

That same year — 2012 — Donald Payne Jr. decided to get a colonoscopy. It revealed more than a dozen polyps, all non-cancerous.

Since succeeding his father in Congress, Payne, D-Newark, has made it a priority to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screenings, particularly in underserved communities.

On Monday, Payne appeared at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center — the hospital where he was born and lives four blocks from — to rally support for his bill, the “Donald Payne Sr. Colorectal Cancer Detection Act,” which aims to improve access to cancer screenings. The bill would require Medicare to cover government-approved, blood-based screening tests that would indicate whether there’s a risk for colorectal cancer.

Payne said the tests would help people determine their risk and if they require a colonoscopy, which is more invasive — a deterrent for many — but also the most accurate screening method.

“Colorectal cancer is a disease that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year, and it’s something that hits incredibly close to home for me,” Payne said in a room that included members of the medical center’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Taskforce, which is focused on increasing screening in the Newark area.

One of my top priorities is addressing the health care disparities that lead to colorectal cancer being such a devastating disease. That’s why I joined health care leaders today to ask Congress to pass this crucial legislation that would improve access to critically important cancer screenings, especially in communities of color where cost is too often a barrier to receiving the proper care.”

Colorectal cancer is the U.S.’s third-leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women, and is expected to kill more than 52,000 people in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society.

It estimates that 4,260 new colorectal cancer cases will be diagnosed this year in New Jersey, and that 1,380 people in the state will die of the disease.

The ACS also reports that colorectal cancer disproportionately affects the Black community, where the rates are the highest of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Blacks are about 20% more likely to get colorectal cancer and about 40% more likely to die from it than most other groups, the organization says.

Routine testing can help prevent colon cancer or catch it at its earliest stage when it is most treatable, increasing survival rates,” according to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Payne said he hopes to build on the “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act,” which passed in 2019 and paved the way for Medicare beneficiaries to get the removal of polyps, small clumps of cells that form on the lining of the colon and can be cancerous, covered during routine colorectal cancer screenings.

It’s recommended that people get screened for colorectal cancer when they reach the age of 45, but earlier if there’s a family history of the disease.

“One of my highest priorities has been to address the health care disparities that lead to colorectal cancer being such a devastating disease to so many families,” Payne said, “and what I’ve learned is that early detection and frequent screenings are really the key to defeating it.”

Payne said raising awareness about colorectal cancer and improving access are key. He would like to see a blood-based colorectal test that he believes would increase participation among people who find the standard colonoscopy too invasive.

“Had my father gotten his colonoscopy, he would still be a member of Congress and I would still have my father,” Payne said.

The elder Payne, who was 77 when he died, was New Jersey’s first Black congressman. He chaired the Congressional Black Caucus. When he announced his cancer diagnosis in February 2012, he stressed that he was continuing plans to run for re-election, noting that his prognosis was considered promising for recovery. But he died just one month later.

Dr. Johanny Garcia, the director of Newark Beth Israel’s CRCS Taskforce and one of the speakers at the event, said the issue of colorectal cancer screenings resonates on a personal level.

She had a relative who died of colon cancer, and her father was spared, thanks to a colonoscopy that caught it early, Garcia said.

“It’s a silent disease,” she said. “It doesn’t give symptoms until it’s too late.”

Dr. Sari Jacoby, a CRCS Taskforce member and director of the Frederick B. Cohen Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Newark Beth Israel, said colorectal cancer doesn’t benefit from the level of awareness as breast cancer, for instance.

“By the time people get referred to me,” Jacoby said, “it’s a much more advanced stage.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-04-12 03:20:46 -0700