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  • Breast Cancer Doesn’t Know It’s October

    The following blog appeared in The Huffington Post on October 2, 2014.

    This week was the kickoff the 30th observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). As I conducted numerous media interviews about the continued need for research, education, treatment support, and advocacy, it occurred to me that it would be great if we were talking about breast cancer like this every day of the year.

    It’s really quite simple. Breast cancer doesn’t know (and doesn’t care) that it’s October, because breast cancer is diagnosed and kills women and men every day of every month of every year. Every 19 seconds, somewhere in the world, a person has a new diagnosis of breast cancer. In the U.S., a woman is diagnosed every two minutes, and one dies every 13 minutes from this terrible disease.

    Those are shocking numbers, and behind every one of those numbers is a compelling story. A mother who by sheer will lived long enough to watch a child graduate from high school. A daughter taken too soon from parents who would have given anything to switch places with her. A father carrying a gene mutation that passed breast cancer on to his daughters. A woman without money, without insurance, terrified to seek help until the tumor was breaking through her skin.

    I think of these stories in October, and November, and June and April, as does everyone in the breast cancer movement. As much joy as we take in celebrating the women who are cancer-free; as much pride as we take in funding leading research; as much effort as we put into helping the most vulnerable people in our communities, we know that we will be continuing this work until we can shut off the lights and go home, because we’ve cured and prevented this disease.

    Until then, we at Komen will keep up the fight for today and for the future. This week, we announced 116 new research grants for 2014, aimed at answers and better methods for preventing, detecting and treating every form of this disease, and especially metastatic and aggressive forms of this disease.

    Our 116 new grants include support for 50 “early-career” researchers. These are recent graduates of doctoral, masters’ or baccalaureate programs, and young doctors interested in a career in biomedical research. They are also researchers who need funding to launch their own careers in innovative science.

    In a world where resources for medical research funding are dwindling, these young scientists need organizations like Komen to help them continue the next generation of research. That’s what we are doing, while continuing to support the eminent physicians and scientists who have made so much progress possible to date.

    In our 32 years, Komen has invested nearly $850 million in research, more than any other nonprofit and second only to the U.S. government. It’s research that has helped push death rates down by 34 percent since 1990, and helped improve the survivability of this disease. You can read about our exciting new grants here.

    We also — just in time for NBCAM — launched a redesign of our komen.org website, because ending breast cancer means giving women, men and families the information they need to be empowered patients, with the strength of a community fighting with and for them.

    Our komen.org website is a comprehensive resource and enhances the ability of women and men to use the unbiased, up-to-date scientific information on the disease to help them make informed choices about their care, while connecting them to a world of people who care and are available to help them. I hope you’ll visit the new komen.org.

    I also hope that as October passes, you’ll keep the journeys of strong and courageous breast cancer patients in your hearts and thoughts. I hope that you embrace the pink that you will see this month, because pink makes it possible to fund breakthrough research and provide community health for those most in need. It gives women the power of community, and unites us in a common purpose — a purpose that will still be urgent when this special month is over.

    Thank you for all that you may be doing to help women and men with breast cancer, and know that we, too, will be there whenever and wherever we are needed.

    Follow Judith A. Salerno on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Judy_KomenCEO

  • Tune in to Hear from Dr. Salerno Tomorrow Morning

    Tomorrow marks the first day of October, or, as we at Komen know it, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It won’t be long before some of your favorite products are adorned with pink ribbons, and we’ll all be reminded of a very important fact: nearly everyone has been touched by this deadly disease.

    We’ve made incredible progress against breast cancer in the 32 years since our Founder, Nancy G. Brinker, promised her sister Suzy Komen that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer.

    -          Mortality rates from breast cancer are down by 34 percent in the U.S.

    -          The five-year relative survival rate when breast cancer is detected early is 99 percent!

    -          Women are more knowledgeable about the disease, asking their doctors about appropriate breast cancer screening tests, healthy lifestyle choices and their personal risk.

    But what comes next? Breast cancer still claims a life every 60 seconds, so what is Komen doing to save lives, and, ultimately, end breast cancer?

    Starting tomorrow morning, our President and CEO Dr. Judy Salerno will be speaking with some of your favorite radio personalities about key breast cancer issues, including Komen’s commitment to the future of breast cancer research, addressing health disparities and ensuring women have access to vital breast cancer services.

    You can hear her LIVE tomorrow morning on a few stations across the U.S., so be sure to tune in to these local stations!

    *All times noted are in EST

    7:10 a.m. -7:20 a.m.: WTBQ-FM NEW YORK
    7:35 a.m. -7:45 a.m.: WOON-AM PROVIDENCE
    8:20 a.m. -8:30 a.m.: WAMV-AM ROANOKE
    9:10 a.m. – 9:20 a.m.: WFFG-AM MIAMI
    9:20 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: WOCA-AM ORLANDO
    10:20 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.: THE BILL MARTINEZ SHOW

    Not in your area? No problem. Several other stations throughout the U.S. will be airing conversations with Dr. Salerno throughout the month of October, so be sure to keep an ear out!

  • Does local therapy choice improve survival?

    Guest post by Komen Scholar Ann H. Partridge, M.D., M.P.H.

    Over the past decade, there has been a substantial increase in the number of women with early breast cancer who are choosing to undergo prophylactic contralateral mastectomy (e.g., removal of the healthy breast, usually in conjunction with mastectomy for the breast that has breast cancer), particularly among young women.  Reasons for this trend and whether it improves how women do in the long run are under active study.

    At the ASCO Breast Cancer Symposium in San Francisco last week, researchers from Canada used the Ontario Cancer Registry to compare outcomes between young women who underwent bilateral mastectomy and those who only underwent unilateral mastectomy.

    The study found that among 628 women age 35 or younger at diagnosis who underwent surgery for early breast cancer, those who had bilateral mastectomy (16 percent) did not experience better survival compared with women who underwent unilateral mastectomy.  The median follow-up was only 11 years, and other recent data have suggested that even among women with a known BRCA 1 or 2 mutation, who have a higher risk of developing a new breast cancer in the remaining breast in the future, the modest benefit may not be seen for several years. Further, it is possible that a subset of patients may experience benefit, emphasizing that further research to tease out different benefits for different types of breast cancer is needed.

    Another study presented at the conference and led by Catherine Parker, M.D., of the University of Alabama, compared outcomes among women who underwent mastectomy, breast-conserving surgery plus radiation, or breast-conserving surgery alone.  Prior studies comparing breast-conserving therapy (both with and without radiation) to mastectomy for early-stage breast cancer found no difference in patient outcomes. However, Parker and colleagues challenged this tenet when considering tumor subtype (e.g., triple negative, HER-2 positive, ER-positive), finding breast-conserving surgery plus radiation was significantly associated with longer survival, suggesting that type of local therapy makes a difference in survival rates.

    An analysis of breast surgery types within that study confirmed the survival benefit associated with breast-conserving surgery plus radiation among patients with hormone receptor-positive disease, but not among those with hormone receptor-negative disease. Additionally, breast-conserving surgery plus radiation was associated with longer survival than breast-conserving surgery alone, regardless of tumor type.

    These recent studies underscore our evolving understanding of how the type of surgery can affect outcomes for women with breast cancer, and that further research is definitely needed.  Moreover, they highlight the fact that when women have choices about how to treat breast cancer, they need information and support in order to make the best personal decisions.  When I discuss surgical decisions with my patients, especially given the growing body of research suggests that lumpectomy followed by radiation is as good as (if not better than) mastectomy which is as good as bilateral mastectomy in terms of overall survival for most women, I try to help them focus on what will make them feel best, both physically and emotionally, when they are into their survivorship. Findings like those presented at the ASCO meeting are important for both patients and physicians as they make treatment decisions, and I’m pleased to see continued progress in research that will help identify the best treatments for individual patients.



  • Promising Research Can’t Stall for Lack of Funding

    The following blog appeared in The Huffington Post on September 11, 2014.

    This month, Mary Woolley, president of Research!America, and I have written a joint blog about why funding for medical research must be a national imperative.

    February 23, 1954, was a milestone in the history of American medical research. That day, children atArsenalElementary SchoolinPittsburghlined up to receive injections of a promising vaccine. Within months, school children all over the country were doing the same, and polio was on its way to being eradicated in theUnited States. The disease which had killed and paralyzed children and adults alike would no longer be a threat.

    This remarkable achievement would not have been possible without the work of Dr. Jonas Salk and his team at theUniversityofPittsburgh, and — equally significant — grant support from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now known as March of Dimes. Policymakers played a role, too, when the Polio Vaccine Assistance Act of 1955 made possible federal grants to the states for purchase of the vaccine and for the costs of planning and conducting vaccination programs.

    A generation or two later, millions of individuals worldwide benefited from another major medical breakthrough. Remember when being diagnosed as HIV-positive was an automatic death sentence in the 1980s?  Accelerated research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in partnership with Burroughs Welcome and Duke University, resulted in the development of AZT, the first drug that slowed the replication of HIV. By 1987, the drug won FDA approval and marked the first major treatment in extending the lives of HIV/AIDS patients.

    Life-saving wonders such as the Salk vaccine and AZT can’t come fast enough for patients suffering from debilitating and deadly diseases. That’s why there is a coordinated push this month by medical research organizations for Congress to increase funding for federally supported research that lays the groundwork for private sector innovation.

    Efforts to combat Ebola, dengue fever, and other deadly diseases with a rapid, coordinated response would be hamstrung without well-funded federal agencies, as well as successful partnerships between the public and private sectors, worldwide. In addition, federal research agencies like the NIH and the National Science Foundation fuel scientific discovery at academic institutions, providing the resources critical to supporting small and large-scale projects that could lead to promising new therapies and medical devices. Without such research, we would have not discovered the use of Vitamin D and aspirin as preventative measures for dementia, heart attack and stroke. The critical boundary-pushing science being undertaken by federal government researchers and their academic and private sector partners has been slowing over the last decade, as policymakers seemingly take progress for granted.  We can’t allow this to happen;  there is too much at stake.

    For example, scientists at UC Berkeley are working to grow human organ tissues, like heart and liver, on tiny chips. If successful, the project could lead to “a personalized medicine, patient-specific readout of any drug you want to test,” according to Anurag Mathur, one of the researchers atBerkeley. This bioengineering technique could one day replace years of tedious testing on humans and animals. This research is happening thanks to funding by the Cures Acceleration Network, which is overseen by theNationalCenterfor Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), an agency within NIH.

    Furthermore, NIH, Novartis, and the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, a Phoenix-based non-profit, are testing drugs that could potentially prevent  Alzheimer’s in people with a genetic predisposition to that terrible disease.  Another public/private partnership of NIH-funded researchers, scientists at the biotech company Genentech, and Belgian researchers resulted in the mass production of t-PA, a clot-dissolving enzyme that dramatically reduces mortality and disability when promptly delivered to victims of heart attack and stroke.

    There are hundreds of vital research projects underway; many of them threatened by loss of support. For advances to continue, for patients’ hope to be kept alive, the public, scientists, and advocates must urge Congress to boost funding for research and restore NIH’s purchasing power which is 25 percent lower than it was a decade ago. That’s why are are now seeing an unprecedented level of collaboration on congressional outreach by organizations such as Research! America, Susan G. Komen, and the American Association for Cancer Research As policymakers make funding decisions for the next fiscal year, it is imperative that Congress realizes what is at risk.

    Cancer in all its forms, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and painful, chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease will only be overcome if we, as a nation, have the will and commitment to once again make funding the type of essential research that led to the eradication of polio in the United States such a high national priority.

    In sum, policymakers must support substantial investments in medical research and policies that advance public and private innovation. They must offer that support as if it were a matter of life and death—because history shows us it is.


  • 5 Reasons to Join Us at the 5th Annual Honoring the Promise Gala

    On Thursday, September 18, 2014, Honoring the Promise will bring together the heroes of the breast cancer movement for a celebratory evening of inspiration and world-class entertainment. Whether you already have your tickets or you’re not sure about your schedule, here are five reasons you should definitely join us at the Kennedy Center next Thursday night.

    1)     It’s Saving Lives of Women and Men across the National Capital Region

    The National Capital Region, which includes Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia, has the highest incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer in the entire country. Incidence rates are 20 percent higher than the national average, and mortality rates are nearly 40 percent higher than the national average. In addition, it has one of the highest rates of late-stage diagnosis of breast cancer.

    We are determined to overcome these disparities. Komen has invested $23 million in breast cancer research taking place at local institutions (like Georgetown University), and more than $35 million in programs that reach, educate, screen and provide assistance to the medically underserved and women of color. Komen President and CEO Dr. Judy Salerno writes more about this vital work in a recent piece for Washington Life Magazine.

    Funds raised at Honoring the Promise help us continue to fund these lifesaving programs. Last year, we raised $2 million dollars for these critical initiatives, and we intend to make an even bigger impact this year.

    2)     You’ll Be in the Company of Breast Cancer Leaders

    Victoria Reggie Kennedy and Susan Ford Bales will present the Betty Ford Lifetime Achievement Award to Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Nancy G. Brinker and Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. will present the Mission Advancement Award to David M. Rubenstein.

    These two individuals have made huge contributions to Komen’s mission, and to the fight against breast cancer. Congresswoman Schultz has worked tirelessly to pass critical women’s health legislation on the state and federal level and labored to implement programs to empower young women faced with breast cancer. As a Global Ambassador to Susan G. Komen and Founding Chair of Honoring the Promise, Rubenstein has played an integral role in Komen’s mission, attending and speaking at many of Komen’s largest fundraising events, and donating over $1.3 million to critical breast cancer research and global and community initiatives for vital health education and screening and treatment services.

    3)     Julia Murney and Bruce Hornsby Will Serenade You

    Renowned musicians Bruce Hornsby, the creative icon behind the hit song “The Way It Is,” boasting a two-and-a-half decade recording career, and Julia Murney, who most recently appeared on Broadway and toured the country as Elphaba in Wicked, will make the evening truly one to remember. Accompanying Murney as she sings the classic song “Defying Gravity” from Wicked will be the NEWorks String Quartet, led by Nolan Williams, Jr. We won’t say singing along is encouraged, but if it’s your dream to do a duet with Elphaba, we won’t stop you!

    4)     The Post-Party Will Be a Blast

    If you like music, food and dancing, that is! After the ceremony, entertainment group Charizma will help us celebrate the 5th year of this important event by cranking up the energy and the music. We’re proud of the work taking place in the D.C. area and across the country, the progress our organization has made over the past 32 years, and the three million breast cancer survivors enjoying life today, so let’s celebrate!

    5)     You’re Honoring the Promise

    Our organization was founded on a promise between two sisters. But now it’s a promise we’ve made to women and men everywhere – and one we intend to keep. For five years, Honoring the Promise has done just that: honored our commitment to ending breast cancer. We invite you to join us this year, at this incredible event, as we continue to work toward our vision of a world without breast cancer.

    For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit our website www.komen.org/honoringthepromise.