First and foremost, thank you for being part of our Army of Women. Your support, encouragement and honesty are what helps us grow the Army of Women every day. I know all of you care deeply about breast cancer, and recent public events within the breast cancer community have triggered emotions ranging from anger to dismay to sadness. It has also raised important questions about how breast cancer organizations use the hard-earned money breast cancer survivors and their family members and friends raise.
That’s why I think it’s important for us to take this opportunity to use the public awareness about breast cancer funding to refocus attention on the need for research that will take us beyond a cure and figure out what causes this disease, so that we can end it.
As I said in my essay in the New York Times, because we do not know what causes breast cancer, we focus on looking for cancers that are already there. We’ve been doing this since the 1950s, when the first screening study demonstrated a 30 percent decrease in deaths from breast cancer. But decades later, the success rate of screening remains nearly the same, even with much better imaging: routine mammography screening results in a 15- to 20-percent decrease in mortality in women over age 50.
The problem is, as we now know, that there are at least five, and probably more, different types of breast tumors, and they grow at different rates. Some are so aggressive that they have almost always spread before they are visible on mammogram. But other tumors, if left alone, may never spread at all and do not need to be found. This doesn’t mean we should stop screening. Mammography remains the best tool we have. But we have to stop trying to make mammography better and start performing more research focused on finding what causes this disease.
We need to go all the way—and stop this disease. If we could discover that HPV causes cancer of the cervix, and then develop a vaccine to prevent it, there is no reason we can’t do the same for cancer of the breast! In fact, we are currently collaborating on research to look for an infectious cause of breast cancer, and will tell you more about it in the coming months! It is challenging to do this out-of-the-box research. It takes friends, focus, and funds! But if we don’t do it, who will?
We believe all of you are in the forefront of changing the breast cancer research paradigm. We stand 370,000 strong and counting, and together we will see an end to breast cancer.