12/09/2014 06:00 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2015

Are We Doing Enough? Some Questions for the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium Participants

This year, the National Breast Cancer Coalition posed a question to the world. Isn't it time we stop losing the women and men we love to breast cancer?

The question is rhetorical, and the answer, at least on the surface, is easy. Yes. Yes, it is time we stop losing the women and men we love. In fact, after years of extensive awareness campaigns and billions of dollars in research funds, it is past time. Scientists, researchers, advocates, patients and survivors all agree. The real question, the question that demands a real answer, is how do we stop the women and men we love from dying from this disease?

NBCC believes the only way to save lives is to focus collaborative research on two very important areas: primary prevention of breast cancer and prevention of metastasis--or the spread of the disease to other parts of the body.

This week, scientists and researchers are convening at one of the most prestigious breast cancer events in the world. The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is an international scientific symposium for interaction and exchange among basic scientists, researchers, clinicians, advocates, and industry members with a stake in breast cancer. As the participants attend their meetings and present and discuss their research, they should keep a few important questions in mind.

Why is progress glacial? Why are we going about business as usual when 40,000 women and 430 men will die from breast cancer this year in the United States alone? Why do the scientific community and its funders invest primarily in temporary solutions and not in a final end to the disease? The focus continues to be narrow, on a specific gene or pathway, and singular. Little collaboration, and minimal attention to the big question: how does what we do help end breast cancer? Not just produce publications or patents. This year, worldwide 522,000 women will die from breast cancer--isn't that a strong enough motivator to change the way we approach breast cancer research?

It is time for a different strategy. The National Breast Cancer Coalition knows that, which is why our Artemis Projects® have brought researchers and advocates together to investigate primary prevention and prevention of metastasis through an advocate led collaborative strategy. But it is absolutely essential that the entire research community get on board.

The stakes are extremely high--people are dying. We can't continue to waste our time on early detection and treatments that bring only incremental relief or more toxicity. It is not enough history has proven that. In 1987, the year I was diagnosed, nearly 120 women in the United States died every day from breast cancer. Today, more than 25 years later, that number is 110.

While the mortality rate has gone down somewhat, the rate of change has not accelerated and remained at 1.9 percent per year. That would not be the case with real progress. Researchers agree that it is time to stop losing the women and men we love. But until they act on that sentiment, until they join us to make concrete changes, we will continue to lose our loved ones. Every year. Like clockwork.