By: Ambassador Nancy Brinker
As the 25th National Breast Cancer Awareness Month enter its final week, I’m reminded of how much has changed for the better in the fight against this disease, and humbled by how much is still left to do.
The good news first: breast cancer mortality is dipping slightly and some forms of breast cancer have extraordinary survival rates – 98% five-year survival rates for cancers that haven’t spread from the breast, compared with 74% when I founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement in 1982.
In just one generation, leading scientists funded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure have learned that breast cancer takes many forms. They’ve developed more treatment options, and we’ve gained extraordinary insights into how cancer cells develop and spread.
Screening and widespread education programs in our communities, supported by Komen’s local Affiliates, have given more information, and thus more control, over their health.
Importantly, there are far more resources and support. When my sister, Susan G. Komen, was diagnosed in the late 1970s, there were no 1-800 numbers, no internet, and a stigma around breast cancer that left women feeling very much alone. Today, the internet and a multitude of support programs provide women with access to others and unlimited information.
Still, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Some 200,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year; 40,000 will die just in the United States. Ten times that number will die around the world. Treatments are still elusive for aggressive forms of the disease, and we have any number of theories, but no definitive answers, on how breast cancer can be avoided in the first place. Today, too many Americans cannot access cancer care without also facing financial ruin, a situation we are addressing in our advocacy programs.
We also face arising wave of cancer deaths in countries where is not a priority. As Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control at the U.N.’s World Health Organization, and with information gleaned firsthand from Komen’s relationship in 50 countries, I am calling on global health ministers to include cancer screenings in existing communicable disease programs. I’ve sat with women in these countries, dying of cancers diagnosed too late to save them, who might have recovered if information and medical help were available sooner.
I promised my sister that I would do everything I could to end breast cancer forever. We’re not there yet. So while we seek the answers, I urge women – and men – to get educated about breast health. This USA Today supplement is an excellent place to start, and we have a wealth of information on www.komen.org. Please visit us.
Source: Breast Cancer, USA Today Supplement, Oct. 2009, p.2