It is time to change the conversation about breast cancer

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:03

    Every year I am awed by the generosity in our community for making donations and taking time to raise breast cancer awareness, by talking about screening and early detection. With all the attention and resources directed to breast cancer, the public understandably believes we have made significant progress. During “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” we hear a lot about the progress being made. But we haven’t made a significant change in what really matters, which is preventing breast cancer and making certain no one dies of it. Here are the numbers: In 2008 worldwide 1.4 million women were diagnosed and 458,503 died. In the U.S. in 2010 it is estimated 261,100 women and 1,970 men were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,230 died of the disease. The incidence of late stage breast cancer has not changed since 1975. In the U.S. a woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast cancer has increased from about 1 in 11 in 1975 to 1 in 8 in today. Mortality has been declining but only slightly. In 1991, 119 women died every day. Last year it was estimated to be 110. If we continue making progress at this rate, it will take 500 years to end breast cancer. These are not merely statistics, they represent millions of lives. These losses are not acceptable. Every 14 minutes a woman dies. So what is the good news? In the past 20 years billions of dollars have gone into breast cancer research. Scientists have learned a great deal of information about breast cancer. It is the biology of the tumor that matters rather than size. We know there are at least 5 types of breast cancer with different risk factors, prognoses and treatment. We have better treatments: Chemotherapy, hormonal targeted therapy which have had an impact on mortality. We also have better quality of life for many: Lumpectomy vs. mastectomy: sentinel node biopsy. While we have made some progress, it is not enough. In September 2010 the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) announced that it had set a deadline to reach its mission of eliminating breast cancer: Breast Cancer Deadline 2020— end of breast cancer by 1/1/2020. Why a deadline? Because the current infrastructure and focus in breast cancer has not led to significant progress in ending the disease or in preventing deaths. Using NBCC’s innovative, advocate-led model to catalyze research in areas that hold promise for contributing to the end of breast cancer, we will end breast cancer. For more information on how NBCC is going to achieve the goal to end breast cancer by 2020 and how you can help, go to Anne Grant lives in Warwick and is a 17-year survivor. She is a board member of the National Breast Cancer Coalition representing SHARE: Self Help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer.