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The Truth About Breast Cancer

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Let me tell you the truth about breast cancer: Every 14 minutes, someone dies from this disease in this country alone.

You would probably think that, with all the breast cancer activism that happens in the U.S. during October and all of the media attention it receives, we have made significant progress toward ending breast cancer.

The truth is, we have not.

In fact, in the United States, the chance of a woman developing breast cancer during her lifetime has increased from about 1 in 11 in 1975 to 1 in 8 today. The U.S. breast cancer mortality has been declining, but at a pace nowhere near commensurate with the investment we have made in breast cancer. In 1991 in the United States, 119 women died of breast cancer every day. Last year, that number was estimated to be 110.

This year, nearly 40,000 women and 450 men will die from breast cancer in the US. Worldwide that number will be nearly 500,000 and without truly significant breakthroughs is predicted to rise to nearly 750,000 by 2030. In 2015, it is estimated that 1.6 million women will be diagnosed with breast cancer around the world. This number will continue to rise to an estimated 2.2 million in 2030. Despite years of awareness campaigns and widespread screening, the incidence of late stage breast cancer has not changed since 1975.

We tend to glaze over when statistics are thrown our way. But here's the truth: these numbers represent real people's lives -- our mothers, daughters, friends, neighbors and co-workers. These statistics are about people with whom we've connected -- people with whom we've shared our dreams, life's challenges, laughter and conversations about how we have intended to change the world to make it a better place for all. We continue to lose far too many of our friends and family members to this disease.

We can change that. But first we have to face the truth. There are many facts about breast cancer that are misunderstood by or misrepresented to the general public. The National Breast Cancer Coalition is getting out the facts about breast cancer throughout October. Truths that are sometimes hard to accept, like the statistics above and the fact that early detection is not the key to ending breast cancer and that we don't know how to prevent the spread of breast cancer to other parts of the body (metastasis).(1)(2)(3) To make real progress toward saving lives and ending breast cancer -- which is the goal of NBCC -- we need to better understand the reality of this disease at all levels. We need to know the enemy as it truly is, not as we like to think it is.

Our nation has invested billions of dollars in breast cancer research and technology, yet the statistics have not substantially changed over the past decades. You may hear that the five-year survival for early stage breast cancer is 98 percent. That statistic gives a false sense of security and is misleading. Within that number are many women with metastatic disease and women who will have a recurrence of their disease and be diagnosed with metastatic disease. Survival statistics tell us we do a lot of screening. The truth is that "five year survival statistics" do not tell us anything about whether we are saving lives. Now that sounds counterintuitive. But it is the truth. And we need to understand that.(4)

In truth, is it all bad news? No. Our investments have brought us to the point where we have the knowledge, technology and tools to make a real difference. It's time to leverage those investments to end this disease.

Last year the National Breast Cancer Coalition declared a deadline -- Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® -- the end of breast cancer by January 1, 2020. If you've visited our website, you will see a clock that counts down the years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds to the end of breast cancer. The numbers on that clock are a visual reminder and declaration that we are fighting every day, hour, minute and second for real peoples' lives.

We are developing strategic plans of action focused in two areas: the causes and prevention of breast cancer metastasis (the spread of cancer), and how to prevent the disease from developing in the first instance. We have launched collaborations of researchers, advocates, regulators, policymakers, all who should be at the table, to help reach the deadline. Our website gives more information about our plans.

We all need to face the truth, understand the enemy and then become part of the movement to end breast cancer. We need you to get on the clock with us.

There's not a moment to spare.

(1)Semiglazov VF, Moiseenko VM, Manikhas AG, et al. Interim results of a prospective randomized study of self-examination for early detection of breast cancer (Russia/St.Petersburg/WHO) Vopr Onkol. 1999;45(3):265-271.
(2)Gotzsche PC, Nielsen M. Screening for breast cancer with mammography. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;1:CD001877.
(3)Screening for breast cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. Nov 17 2009;151(10):716-
726, W-236
(4)Welch HG, Schwartz LM, Woloshin S. Are increasing 5-year survival rates evidence of success against cancer? JAMA. Jun 14 2000;283(22):2975-2978.