There’s chatter online today about us and our work in Uzbekistan. Our partnership is with the National Breast Cancer Association of Uzbekistan, a well-regarded NGO endorsed by the United Nations, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and through work done at the Seattle Cancer Care Institute. NBCA has been working since 2009 to provide breast cancer education, screening and treatment in Uzbekistan, where breast cancer kills about 1,000 women annually. Our participation is to help with an upcoming Race benefitting breast cancer programs in Uzbekistan.
We partner in more than 50 countries worldwide to erase the stigma of breast cancer that still exists in some countries, and to provide early screening and treatment for women who have few or no options today. Our work takes us to the Middle East, Africa, central Europe, Asia and Latin America, and to date, we have invested more than $44 million to these outreach programs and in research with global institutions.
If you have further questions, please contact us at news[at]komen[.]org.
The scientists who “invented” tamoxifen back in the 1960s were actually trying to develop a contraceptive. As the story goes, it worked in laboratory rats, but had the opposite effect in women. Instead of becoming a birth control pill or fertility treatment, the drug became one of the most widely used breast cancer therapies, thanks to a young chemist from England, Dr. V. Craig Jordan.
Doctors began prescribing tamoxifen in the 1970s, and even today, it remains a mainstay in the treatment of breast cancer. Meanwhile, Dr. Jordan has dedicated his career to discovering and improving therapies for estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. A recent story about him estimates that one million women worldwide are alive today because of his research. And countless other women were able to live long, productive lives, ultimately dying of old age instead of breast cancer.
As cancer drugs go, tamoxifen is inexpensive (the patent on tamoxifen expired almost 10 years ago). It’s an oral drug, so it’s easy to administer. It’s also very effective, though there are other options that may be equally or more effective. Scientists and physicians continue to study the drug because it is an important weapon in the treatment of breast cancer around the globe, and advances in modern technology are allowing them to learn new things about old drugs.
Since 2003, tamoxifen research has focused on a gene called CYP2D6 (pronounced sip-2-D-6), which helps the body metabolize tamoxifen and convert it into an active agent against breast cancer. A few studies suggested that some women didn’t fully metabolize tamoxifen because of differences in their CYP2D6 genes, thus raising concerns that the drug was not effective against their breast cancers. Some doctors began ordering CYP2D6 tests before prescribing tamoxifen, presumably changing their treatment recommendation if a woman’s test showed she was one who didn’t fully metabolize the drug.
There also seemed to be a correlation between hot flashes and CYP2D6, leading us to believe that if a woman wasn’t experiencing hot flashes, then the drug wasn’t working. And women who had hot flashes were reassured that the tamoxifen was doing its job.
Fortunately, some researchers argued that we didn’t yet know enough about CYP2D6 to be making treatment decisions. In 2008, Susan G. Komen for the Cure awarded a Promise Grant to a group of these researchers so they could delve further into this question (results of this study were just published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute; Volume 104 Issue 6 March 21, 2012). By analyzing the DNA of breast cancer tumors from women who had received tamoxifen, the researchers were able to prove that differences in CYP2D6 did not predict who would or would not benefit from taking tamoxifen. They also showed that hot flashes didn’t correlate to differences in CYP2D6.
This might not sound like an important discovery, but it is. For one, women and their doctors won’t be making a treatment decision based on erroneous information, nor will doctors be ordering expensive tests that are unnecessary. It also highlights the importance of clinical trials and tissue banking. The women whose tumors were studied had participated in a large treatment trial, and had agreed to let the researchers collect tissue from their breast cancer tumors. Had the women not agreed to this, the scientists would not have been able to analyze the tumors and compare their findings with treatment outcomes for these women. We must continue to support this kind of research because studies like this will help us realize the promise of personalized medicine.
For those interested in more details about this Komen Promise Grant, please read a great summary written by my colleague, Stephanie Reffey, PhD.
Guest post from Kendall Bergman, Program Manager, Scientific Programs at Susan G. Komen for the Cure
After managing Komen’s grant to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® Tissue Bank at IU Simon Cancer Center beginning in 2007 with an initial award of $1M and increasing to $7M to date, I have to confess I feel at a loss for words to accurately and effectively describe to you my experience this past weekend as I attended, participated in and volunteered at the Komen Tissue Bank’s two day collection as part of its Super Cure activities leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, February 5. For a point of reference you might find it interesting to know that the tissue bank has never collected more than 150 core biopsies in one day. However, this weekend they lived up to the challenge of collecting close to 700 specimens over two days. More than 600 volunteers showed up, including surgeons, nurses, survivors, family members, women, men, and young people. During volunteer sign-up, the tissue bank staff had to let some of those interested know they weren’t needed. Women showed up to donate their tissue by the droves. I count myself lucky to be part of that donor crowd now. My normal tissue was taken on Saturday, January 28 and I honestly have to say it was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I was emotional afterward and stayed pretty much on the verge of tears all day.
I wish you could have been there with me to see the volunteers walking the donors throughout the process beginning with the consent process, progressing to leaving a few vials of blood, and culminating with the actual tissue removal. I wish you could have seen the faces of the women as they walked out of the examining room to encounter a hall full of volunteers clapping and cheering for them. I wish you knew Sue Clare, Anna Maria Storniolo, Connie Rufenbarger, Jill Henry and the entire tissue bank staff. Their apparent limitless passion, energy and perseverance is inspiring, humbling and compelling. Over the past few days I continue to comprehend that one day it’s quite possible a scientist in Bosnia or Norway or Ghana may one day need a normal tissue specimen and will be able to access mine virtually…in order to complete his or her research and move all us closer to a world without breast cancer.
Tears immediately come to my eyes all over again and I find words don’t suffice. The experience was akin to summer camp. Remember what it’s like at the end of camp? You’ve gotten to know these other kids and the counselors and they’ve become this make-shift family that you don’t want to say good-bye to and at some level you know you’re never going to be the same again. This weekend in Indianapolis I became reconnected with old friends, made new friends and know that I am forever altered…for the better. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity afforded me through my work at Komen. As the saying goes, I wouldn’t trade my experience for all the tea in China.
To read more about the Komen Tissue Bank and our relationship with it, please visit here. For more information on the tissue bank’s relationship with the Super Bowl and all of the Super Cure activities, please visit here. To read about Indy’s Super Cure wrap-up the IU Simon Cancer Center Web site, please visit here.
The 2012 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure series kicked off in a exceptional way this past weekend with the 2nd Bahamas Race for the Cure in Nassau. With a population of only 300,000, the Bahamas is a close-knit community of generosity and support. This support is called up when a family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that strikes on average 20 years earlier than in the U.S. and leaves many families without mothers, daughters and wives. In only two years, this Race has become a rallying cry for Bahamians that they’ve had enough and will not tolerate death from breast cancer.
As participants were gathering in the darkness on Church Street, a young boy, no older than 12, took to the stage to honor his mother, a 2-year survivor celebrating her birthday at the Race. In the crowd were many young survivors, some holding babies and others with young children in tow. These strong women were surrounded by more than 1,000 co-survivors and supporters from the Bahamas, Canada and the U.S. The energy was palpable as the gun was fired and the crowd made their way across the Atlantis Bridge to Paradise Island as daylight was breaking.
Arriving at the waterfront on Paradise Island, the participants gathered to honor the 100+ survivors in attendance. The most memorable moment of the morning came as the survivors made their way to the stage to be serenaded by a local gospel group and show the Bahamian face of breast cancer survivorship from one year to 25+.
Susan G. Komen’s partnership with Marathon Bahamas to execute this event is a special one that will continue to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer programming for many years to come. There is much work to be done to improve the lives of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the Bahamas, but by working together with local NGOs such as the Cancer Society of the Bahamas, Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group, Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation and the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative Foundation, progress will be made.
The first official “pink lighting” of the year occurred this evening (Friday, Jan. 13), when Komen founder and CEO Ambassador Nancy Brinker joined the mayors of Palm Beach and West Palm Beach to light the Royal Park Bridge linking the two communities. “We light this bridge to celebrate 30 years of working together to change the world,” Brinker said. “Together, we are committed to leaving a legacy of a world without breast cancer, one of the brightest lights the world will ever see.” The lighting is a prelude to Saturday’s Perfect Pink Party in Palm Beach, which raises funds and awareness for Komen’s global breast cancer research program and local community health and patient support programs in the region. Komen’s South Florida Affiliate, based in Palm Beach, has provided $16 million in funding for education, screening, outreach and treatment programs for medically under-served women in the region since it was founded in 1991.