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First Lady visits Moffitt Cancer Center to see what Tampa researchers are doing to cure cancer

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden Moffitt
Posted at 7:33 AM, Feb 18, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. — Cancer continues to take a tragic toll in Florida.

According to the Florida Department of Health, the Sunshine State has the second-highest cancer burden in the nation. The more than 100 types of cancer killed more than 132,000 Floridians between 2016 and 2018.

To John Cleveland, the Executive Vice President and Center Director at the Moffitt Cancer Center, those numbers are staggeringly devastating.

However, Cleveland said there is reason for hope. At Moffitt, he said doctors and researchers are making steady progress, which they showed First Lady Jill Biden when she toured the Tampa cancer center Friday afternoon.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visits Moffitt Cancer Center

“I think her visit really is inspirational, right, and this is a terrific honor and privilege to have the First Lady come to visit,” Cleveland said. “It highlights the importance of the work that we’re doing at Moffitt, it highlights the importance of the work that we’re doing in our community, and it highlights the importance of our work that we’re doing for the State of Florida.”

The First Lady visited Moffitt as part of the Biden Administration’s “Moonshot” program, which was launched by then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2016. Now, as President, Biden has reignited the program’s goal to “end cancer as we know it” by cutting cancer deaths by half or more in 25 years through a combination of better treatment, research, and prevention.

"As you know early detection is the key and because of the pandemic so many people have put off their cancer screenings, so I’m going to be out trying to get people to get back to screenings," said Dr. Biden.

Researchers say nearly 10 million people nationwide missed early screenings because of the pandemic.

“This hospital is doing such an amazing job, as you saw and heard the science and what they’re doing. So, Joe and I are continuing our work in cancer," said Dr. Biden.

Cleveland hopes the “Moonshot” will help put a greater emphasis on the latter.

“The mission of Moffitt that’s on the building is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer, so we’ve done really, really good in terms of coming up with new personalized medicine, targeted therapies, and now — most recently — immunotherapies to treat cancer. But what have we really done to prevent it?” said Cleveland. “So we’ve done very, very little in that space, and so it’s a refocus of efforts towards cancer prevention, and there we think we can really start to move the needle.”

RELATED: Moffitt Cancer Center's new technology tracks tumors in real-time; helps decrease radiation side effects

Cleveland reminds us that there are already a number of prevention methods available to prevent certain cancers or detect them early. He said screenings for melanoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer are crucial tools. Additionally, he said the HPV vaccine has proven effective at reducing the risk for six different types of cancer, including cervical cancer.

“Within 30 years — it’s been modeled out — we can eliminate cervical cancer in the United States,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”

However, there’s more work to be done, and it’s happening at centers like Moffitt.

Friday, he and his team showed Biden several initiatives. They showed the First Lady a new initiative that puts researchers face-to-face with patients to help the researchers better understand the progression of cancer and the value of their work. Biden saw Moffitt’s “Mole Patrol,” a free service that screens people across Tampa Bay for melanoma. The First Lady also saw how Moffitt is using advanced mathematics to better understand the progression of some cancers and how best to treat them.

“All of them are very, very excited, and they’re all pushing the envelope,” Cleveland said of the researchers.

He hopes the visit will put a brighter spotlight on Moffitt and believes the overall “Moonshot” initiative can accomplish its goal of cutting cancer deaths.

“The federal government has given a lot of money towards cancer research. Do we need more? Yes, we need more. But I think we need to be more creative and partner with the federal government about finding other ways to bring in money that supports the research,” Cleveland said.