By Caitlin Dalik, DBCC Public Affairs Coordinator
If you’ve been following the news about breast cancer in the media, you probably think that we’ve made some major progress in fighting the disease. However, you may be surprised to find out that the mortality rate from breast cancer has only decreased 5% since 1975. Shocked? So was I.
|Courtesy of NBCC.
To work toward changing this statistic, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) has set a deadline to end breast cancer by January 1, 2020. Skeptical? Keep reading.
At NBCC’s Annual Advocacy Training Conference, the sentiments that breast cancer survivors and advocates shared were similar: that they’re tired of pink and the word hope. Many fear that the sale of pink products is just marketing breast cancer and not getting us any closer to a cure. That’s why NBCC wants to change the conversation from “pink and hope” to Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 (Click here for information from NBCC about the Deadline). The pink products have definitely served their purpose—providing awareness of the disease and making “cancer” a word that no longer is whispered—but like NBCC President Fran Visco said, “We want to put ourselves out of business.” We all want to see an end to breast cancer and it’s definitely possible. As Fran Visco said to an audience of over 800 women and men at the conference, we cured polio in 7 years and “we didn’t get to the moon on hope.” She’s got a point.
NBCC isn’t just setting a deadline for attention; they have a detailed strategic plan to achieve their goal (Click here to read the executive summary). The conference started to change the conversation about breast cancer by bringing in professionals of various fields (from physicists to journalists) to talk about how they think we can change the status quo. The ideas ranged from creating a preventative vaccine to finding a way to stop metastasis to looking more closely at environmental factors. However, NBCC doesn’t just want to change the conversation in the science community but also in the media, on Capitol Hill, in local communities, and more. And that’s where everyone can come in and help put an end to breast cancer. So if you’re asking, “How can I help NBCC end breast cancer by January 1, 2020?”—here is a list to give you some ideas.
- Be an educated advocate. Having information at hand to share with others is your best tool to implement change. There are lots of resources on NBCC’s website that can help you become informed about Breast Cancer Deadline 2020. You can start by clicking here.
- Visit or call your senators and representatives and encourage them to support NBCC’s legislative efforts. For a list of the legislative priorities, click here.
- Spread the word about Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 with friends, family, co-workers and your doctors. Let them know that NBCC is working to end breast cancer and give them some information about how they will do it. Let them know how NBCC differs from other breast cancer organizations and how they are the only one that has set a deadline to end breast cancer (Click here for information from NBCC on how to change the conversation including scenarios).
- Spread the message to you social network! You can write a blog, post links on Facebook or tweet about the deadline (You can also stay up-to-date on what NBCC is doing by “liking” their Facebook and following them on Twitter) You can also contact your legislators this way by tweeting at them or posting on their Facebook wall.
We all need to be prepared and educated to make this deadline a reality. By being educated advocates, we can help NBCC change the conversation and end breast cancer. I encourage you to take action today.
Watch this video from NBCC about Breast Cancer Deadline 2020.
By Chelsea Michael, DBCC Outreach & Education Coordinator
Although one of the main topics at the NBCC Annual Advocacy Conference was how to make faster and more meaningful progress in breast cancer research, a few recent research trends also created some buzz during the sessions.
Can targeting the surrounding tissues prevent tumors from thriving?
Traditionally, most research looks at how to target and treat cancer cells themselves. However, some recent and current projects are looking at preventing new tumors and/or tumor growth by changing the cells and tissues surrounding the cancer cells.
- Researchers found that administering Metformin, a drug currently used to control type 2 diabetes, along with chemotherapy improved breast cancer treatment in mice. Another group of researchers also noticed reduced breast cancer occurrence in a very small group of women taking Metformin to control type 2 diabetes. However, both studies are limited and it is too early to determine how Metformin will impact cancer in non-diabetic individuals.
- Multiple studies are underway to examine potential ways to use Metformin in breast cancer treatment.
- Researchers are studying the impact of anti-inflammatory substances on cancer growth. Substances that have anti-inflammatory effects, such as aspirin and other NSAIDs, as well as vitamin D are under investigation to see if they impact tumor growth.
- Although a link between physical activity and reducing breast cancer has been strongly established, how exactly it helps reduce the risk is still under investigation. Some conference speakers suggested that part of protective effect of exercise may come from inflammation reduction.
What can we learn from breast fluids and breast milk?
Breast fluids and breast milk can provide cell samples, as well as an indication of levels of other substances, such as hormones, in the breast.
- In the “Breast Cancer is Not One Disease” workshop, Susan Love, MD, MBA (The Dr. Susan Love Foundation) referred the BEAM Study, a new study examining if breast fluid (not breast milk) can contain clues to better predict a woman’s risk for breast cancer.
- If the BEAM Study identifies substances linked to breast cancer, Dr. Love also suggested a simple, low-cost fluid test that could be implemented to find high-risk women.
- Sound interesting? Learn more and even see if you qualify to participate in the BEAM Study’s Baltimore trials at Johns Hopkins!
- The Love/Avon Army of Women is also involved in a similar study examining breast milk in lactating mothers.
How can we keep tumor cells dormant?
Researchers traditionally looked for drugs that would shrink tumors; however preventing tumors would be better than treating existing tumors.
- Patricia Steeg, PhD (National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health) discussed the preliminary findings of a study in which a drug prevented metastasized cancer cells from proliferating, or producing more cells, in mice. When metastasized cancer cells divide to make more cells, they can form new tumors. (Steeg also discovered a gene involved in metastasis and has conducted a similar previous study using a different drug.)
- Although the drugs may not have the same effect in humans, it represents a new approach to treating cancer.
- Furthermore, Steeg’s work shows the need to adapt the current clinical trials process. The current process selects for drugs that shrink tumors. However, the drugs under investigation would not progress in the current trial sequence because, although they may prevent new tumors, they do not diminish the size of established tumors.
How would other types of scientist approach cancer?
Engineers and physical scientists approach problems in a different way than the biological researchers tackle the same problems.
By Chelsea Michael, DBCC Education & Outreach Coordinator
Throughout the NBCC Annual Advocacy Conference, speakers identified various obstacles and challenges in science that are especially relevant for breast cancer research. They also suggested tactics to overcome these barriers to propel the field forward. Some of the major challenges are related to translating new findings, career progression in academic settings and how information is shared between scientists.
When researchers make a promising discovery in the lab, the new discovery must undergo the process of translation so that it can be applied to humans in a clinical setting.
- For example, when researchers working on the cellular level saw that some cancer cells had a bunch of special receptors, they discovered HER2+ tumors. Pharmaceutical researchers then began to translate the HER2 discovery and created Herceptin, a drug that would target HER2+ tumors by binding to its special receptors. The discovery of HER2+ tumors did not help a single patient until it was translated into a new treatment.
Speakers suggested the following strategies to improve translation, and hence improve patient outcomes:
- We need to strive for faster and more efficient translation.
- Basic scientists (who make the original discoveries) need keep translation in mind when designing their studies.
- Society often celebrates new discoveries, even if they can’t be translated; we should be more modest in heralding new findings until they are translated.
- Locally, The Center for Translational Cancer Research (part of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance) strives to improve research translation.
Innovation and Academia
Many speakers felt that the current way researchers establish their career in academia stifles innovation by restricting creative and new, but risky, approaches to research.
- New scientists have to fit their research into an established lab’s work until they complete their post-doctoral fellowships. Once they begin their own lab, they usually focus on work that is more likely to lead to publication so they can earn tenure. By the time they can take on riskier projects, their careers are established in more conventional lines.
NBCC has been encouraging innovative research through the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program and its idea grants. The funding goes toward unconventional, but promising research. NBCC also encourages advocates to talk to scientists, especially young scientists about how we can all work together to defeat breast cancer.
Sharing New Information
As mentioned above, only some research is publishable. Typically only work that leads to a new discovery or advancement is published. When it is published, the data are summarized and polished into a nice, neat package. Three problems arise from this process:
- Negative and null results are devalued. Experiments that do not lead to new findings, or when their variables do not seem to impact a process, are usually considered failures, even if we can still learn from them.
- Research that dead-ends is not shared. Therefore if an experiment finds that a variable has no effect in one lab, a year or two later, another lab might repeat a very similar study. The second lab could not build upon the first lab’s work to design a different and new experiment.
- Most researchers do not share raw, uninterpreted data and only really show their work to the community once it is complete. Researchers convert and analyze the data, then write an article for publication, wait for article review and revise the article before the article published in a journal and the public can read it. The process slows down sharing information, as well as only lets us see the data from the researcher’s perspective.
NBCC is pushing for open notebook science to share more research findings and to share it more quickly.
- The open notebook movement encourages scientists to post their raw data and information about their on-going projects on-line. Just as we can learn about long-lost friends’ families, jobs and lives on Facebook, open notebook science allows researchers to easily access what other laboratories choose to share about their on-going and un-published projects.
Breast cancer survivors Peggie Ball of Selbyville and Selena Fry of Milford will be among hundreds gathered at the Tanger Outlets on Sunday, May 22 for the Second Annual DE-feet Breast Cancer 5K. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s programs and services.
Ball explains that she signed up because she knows that walks are a great fundraiser and bring about awareness. “This walk is close to my heart because I have been cancer-free for 1 year and 8 months and during that time I have had three close friends receive the ‘C’ diagnosis.”
|Here’s the “sea of pink” that Peggie is talking about. Join us!
Fry walked at last year’s DE-feet Breast Cancer 5K with her husband and signed up again because she is a walking enthusiast. She credits her love of walking with helping her through her breast cancer treatment. “I really think that because of my physical activity, my recovery from treatments went more smoothly.” Fry said that when she received her breast cancer diagnosis, she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to walk regularly but breast cancer didn’t stop her. Fry continues to try to walk 3 to 4 miles a day and says that it makes her energetic and happy.
Ball knows that the money raised can help us find a cure. “It’s not easy living everyday with the fear that cancer can strike again. To help alleviate that fear, any funds raised can only help,” she says. Fry agrees that this walk is important to survivors. “This walk has a special meaning to me and I walk proudly with other breast cancer survivors,” she says. “Most everyone has been affected by breast cancer in some way or another. I think anyone would benefit from participating in this walk, if for no other reason but to see that there is life after a breast cancer diagnosis.”
“When you see that sea of pink at Tanger Outlets in Rehoboth Beach, that right there is increasing awareness,” Ball says. “Come out and join our sea of pink!”
The DE-feet Breast Cancer Run/Walk will include a timed 5K Run, an untimed 5K Walk, and a 1-Mile Fun Walk. The run/walk begins at 9 am with registration beginning at 7:30 am at the Tanger Outlet’s Seaside Location in the Applebee’s parking lot. Participants can register on-site on the day of the event. For more information about the DE-feet Breast Cancer Run/Walk, please visit www.defeetbreastcancerwalk.org.