The state of Virginia took a big step this week toward becoming a leader in the fight against cancer, passing innovative legislation that will expand support for research, treatment and education.
Virginia also became the 11th state in the country to pass a permanent proclamation that makes every September 26 Mesothelioma Awareness Day.
“While we can celebrate that more and more Virginians are surviving cancer today . . . we must continue to work to find a cure,” said Gov. Bob McDonnell, who signed the six pieces of legislation into law Monday. “With the Commonwealth’s support, that important work will continue.”
In a ceremonial signing, McDonnell was surrounded by advocates from the American Cancer Society and the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation, two of the groups that helped push through the legislation.
Among those who attended the ceremony was Kathy Wiedemer, executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, an advocacy organization that funds peer-reviewed research to find new treatment options and potential cures for the disease.
Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that often is overlooked by public funding. It is diagnosed in between 2,000 and 3,000 Americans annually.
The disease is caused almost exclusively by an exposure to asbestos, the toxic mineral that has been banned in more than 50 countries but not in the United States.
“We’re grateful for the Virginia legislature for bringing much-needed attention to this often neglected cancer, and we hope this will prompt Virginians, as well as others, to learn more about this dangerous disease,” said Wiedemer.
One of the bills will require health insurance plans to cover chemotherapy drugs taken orally at the same level in which they are covered if given by infusion or injection. In the past, oral chemotherapies fell under the prescription drug umbrella, while IV chemotherapy was covered under the medical portion of most plans.
“The legislation makes these treatments more affordable for patients so that doctors and patients can make treatment decisions based on the best possible outcome for the patient rather than the affordability of the treatment,” said Sheri Coombs Lambert, executive director of the Virginia Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
There were two bills passed that would require radiologists performing mammograms to notify women if they have dense breast tissue, which is seen as an increased risk factor for cancer. Dense breast tissue makes is more difficult to detect tumors with a mammogram, which now will encourage them to seek additional testing to discover any abnormalities.
The legislation included increased funding in the state budget for cancer centers at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, which both have National Cancer Institute designated centers.
There was legislation that now allows tobacco settlement funds that traditionally were used for economic development to now be used to fund scientific cancer research at both Universities.