New Komen-Funded Studies in Africa and the U.S. Aim to Improve Breast Cancer Survival in Culturally Diverse Populations

Guest post by Margaret Flowers, Ph.D., Scientific Grants Manager, Susan G. Komen and Funmi Olopade, M.D.,University of Chicago School of Medicine.

Advancements in early detection have led to better survival rates for many women with breast cancer. In spite of this trend, however, not all women experience the same survival advantage, even with an early diagnosis, leaving many questions unanswered.

-While exciting new drugs have extended the lives of many women, they don’t work equally well for all. Does a woman’s race or genetic background influence her response to anti-cancer therapy? 

-Completion of prescribed therapy is critical to achieving a successful outcome. Does financial security or access to a clinic impact a woman’s ability to complete her breast cancer treatment?  

-When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she enters a foreign and often scary world of cancer care. Will there be a health care support system for her that understands and respects her cultural beliefs and is delivered in her language?  

While we know that ethnicity and race, as well as social, cultural, and economic factors, can create barriers that may delay a breast cancer diagnosis, the question remains: how do they influence breast cancer survival in specific populations? Over its thirty year commitment to end breast cancer disparities, Komen has invested nearly $100 million in 242 grants focused on disparities. Continuing that trend, the research focus area of the 2013 Breast Cancer Disparities Awards was aimed at identifying research projects that will result in effective interventions in groups of women for whom the standard of care has been unsuccessful.

Investigators from the US, France, and Africa submitted applications to address the topic of disparities in breast cancer outcomes. Many of the applications were highly regarded by the scientists and advocates on the review committee, but two rose to the top for their potential to have a significant impact on reducing disparities in breast cancer survival.

Dr. Valerie McCormack of the French International Agency for Research on Cancer and Dr. Isabel dos Santos Silva of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine will work with physicians and breast cancer advocates in sub-Sahara Africa to utilize mobile phone technology in documenting a woman’s cancer care journey after a breast cancer diagnosis. The goal of the study is to identify obstacles in the delivery of care and to implement the necessary infrastructure to improve breast cancer outcomes in under-resourced African communities.

Dr. Anna Napoles from the University of California at San Francisco will test the effectiveness of a novel stress management tool in a population of low-income women undergoing chemotherapy. The project will recruit both white and Latina breast cancer patients and ask them to record their emotional and physical well-being during chemotherapy. The researchers hope to show that empowering women to report their physical and emotional experiences will improve their quality of life, help them complete their chemotherapy, and will subsequently lead to better survival in this low income population.

A breast cancer diagnosis marks the start of an uncertain journey. Many personal, cultural, and biological factors will influence every woman’s experience. These projects reflect Komen’s commitment to ensuring a successful journey for every woman with breast cancer, because as long as one woman is living with breast cancer, our journey continues.

About the author

Susan G. Komen has written 343 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.