Are today’s cancer researchers going to save your life? With money, it’s possible.
That’s the real reason that many of us with stage 4 breast cancer push back against the commercialization, sexualization and marketing of our disease. I was reminded of this in the middle of October’s pink frenzy because I got to attend the Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference, which is held annually and is sponsored by Baylor College of Medicine, the Lester & Sue Smith Breast Center and Theresa’s Research Foundation. It is one of the few conferences in the U.S. that is devoted solely to metastatic breast cancer research and these researchers and clinicians are driven to find a cure.
As researcher and radiation oncologist Andy Minn, at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out at the conference, “I remain optimistic due to the accelerated translation of basic science into the clinic.” Thomas Beadnell, a postdoctoral student in the lab of Dr. Danny Welch at University of Kansas Medical Center, echoed that sentiment, saying, “We are seeing great progress through the bridging of multiple areas of research, and that merging will continue to drive advances in the clinic.” It’s hard not to be swept up by their enthusiasm and that of their fellow researchers.
The auditorium was full of bright minds of all ages, engaged in trying to answer the important questions:
What causes metastases?
How can we tell whose cancer will metastasize?
How can we stop metastases from happening?
They’ve got some good leads, but the research can’t happen fast enough for those of us handed a diagnosis of incurable and the 20-30 percent of early-stage breast cancer patients who become metastatic.
That brings me back to pink. Government funding is hard to come by, it's routinely threatened and it’s difficult to study “only” metastases. Mike Wendt of Purdue University told me that at larger cancer research conferences, he and others with an interest in breast cancer metastases will search out the presentations addressing metastases of any cancer. So, while federal funding is absolutely necessary, smaller organizations have been stepping in with money for projects that meet specific criteria.
At this conference, nearly every presentation included a credit to a private foundation or organization. Some are recognizable to almost everyone (Komen, Breast Cancer Research Foundation). Others are less-known in the general population (Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, Metavivor, Theresa’s Research Foundation) but all are helping to fuel that movement of scientific discovery into the clinical possibilities that might save lives.
However, the funding from the money raised through “pink” events is largely directed to things other than research and particularly not toward metastasis research. Pressure from patients and scientists alike is slowly making a difference—Komen has stepped up its contribution toward metastatic research, for example. But the difference in funding is vast, with approximately only 2 to 5 percent of breast cancer research funding directed toward metastatic research, according to METAvivor. This impacts care for all patients. If we know who might have metastasis, why that might happen, where it might go and what we can do to stop it, then patients at earlier stages will have a better chance of truly leaving the shadow of this disease.
These scientists want to change what we know about metastatic disease and put an end to it. Let’s help them do it by knowing where our pink money goes.