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Local and national experts address the hurdles and progress of cancer treatment

Cancer Therapy Panel
Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls
Moderator Lindsey Meyers and speakers Kris Gaster, John Lee, and Pam Taxler discuss the evolution of cancer treatment.

Experts discussed how cancer therapy in South Dakota is facing challenges in the form of cost and health insurance during a forum.

In addition to addressing the problems facing cancer therapy, the speakers also talked about improvements made in cancer treatment. The event, which was hosted by the Rotary Club of Downtown Sioux Falls, featured speakers from the Avera Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Pam Traxel, the senior vice president of the ACS’s Cancer Action Network, said a major hurdle for cancer therapy is the cost of treatment and the accessibility of health insurance.

“It is very hard to afford these therapies without health insurance,” Traxel said. “The one thing we know is that the most important thing a cancer patient needs to take care of their cancer is health insurance.”

As a result of the high costs, cancer patients without health insurance face drastic differences in treatment. According to Traxel, cancer patients without health insurance tend to be diagnosed a full stage later than they could have been.

A possible solution according to Traxel is to expand Medicaid in South Dakota. She says this would potentially cover cancer patients who currently don’t have insurance.

In addition to access to health insurance, Traxel said cancer patients can face the issue of their insurance not covering new advancements in treatment.

“It’s a question of really educating and making sure the insurance design keeps up with the science so that patients have long and fulfilling lives.”

While panelists discussed what the future of cancer treatment could and should look like, they also talked about the recent improvements to cancer therapy.

Kris Gaster, a panelist from the Avera Cancer Institute, said a local issue that Avera has been working on is accessibility to cancer treatment. According to Gaster, Avera has expanded its cancer institute to smaller cities and towns .

John Lee, also from Avera, said this goal of serving smaller populations is important, as rural areas are consistently underrepresented in healthcare.

“Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile,” Lee said.

When looking at the state of cancer therapy as a whole, the speakers talked about cell therapy as a way to treat cancer. In this method, certain cells in the immune system are modified to target cancer cells specifically. According to Lee, this method is less taxing on the patient’s immune system.

Andrew Kronaizl is a senior at Augustana University. He is from Vermillion, SD, and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.