/ Modified mar 8, 2022 9:52 p.m.

First Lady Jill Biden promotes cancer moonshot in visit to Southern Arizona

Biden administration aiming to cut the cancer death rate in half over the next 25 years.

jill biden mission san xavier del bac First Lady Jill Biden, center, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, right, talk with Father Bill Minkel at Mission San Xavier del Bac on March 8, 2022.
Andrew Oxford/AZPM

First Lady Jill Biden visited the Tohono O'odham Nation on Tuesday to highlight the Biden administration's moonshot to drastically reduce cancer deaths.

The visit comes a month after the president announced a new goal of cutting the cancer death rate in half over the next 25 years.

The first lady met health care professionals at San Xavier Health Center, where the University of Arizona Cancer Center has been working to expand colorectal cancer prevention and early-detection strategies.

The cancer center says that while early treatment can substantially reduce colorectal cancer mortality, Indigenous patients have disproportionately late-stage diagnoses and lower survival rates.

The center attributes these disparities to very low screening rates and poor access to colorectal cancer treatments.

While the program got funding from the federal government's cancer moonshot when it was first launched during Joe Biden's time as vice president, the first lady told reporters there is more to do as the administration seeks to reignite the initiative.

"This is so comprehensive and it's great to hear but we can see what more is needed," she said.

Jill Biden said the issue is personal for her family, noting President Joe Biden's son Beau died of cancer.

"And so one of the things that Joe and decided to do was find purpose in that loss. And it's something that I think our son would want us to do. So, Joe is totally committed to this," she said. "I've been traveling the last couple months all across America to look at what is new in cancer β€” in research, meet with navigators, look at rural programs, look at programs in the cities. And of course I would come here and look at programs for Native Americans."

Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, who joined the first lady on the trip, said eliminating these disparities will require work like research that better reaches underrepresented communities.

β€œIt’s so difficult to get some populations to participate in these trials. And if they don't participate, then the results you get from these trials are focused on just the people who were part of the trial," he said. "Too often, Native peoples are not part of the trials, Latinos, African Americans are not part of the trials.”

Becerra added: "The president tasked us to be very clear that we will leave no one behind."

Jill Biden and the secretary later visited Mission San Xavier del Bac and marked International Women's Day at the home of Tucson Mayor Regina Romero.

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