08/13/2012 10:23 am ET Updated Oct 13, 2012

Can We Win a Gold Medal in Breast Cancer?

Yesterday marked the conclusion of the Summer Olympics in London. Like many of you, I watched the games and marveled at the speed, precision and fortitude of the athletes. Having seen quite a few Olympics over the years, I was particularly intrigued by how much the games have evolved as those participating have pushed the boundaries in their sports by being innovative, creative and persistent.

Today the National Breast Cancer Coalition is releasing its annual Progress Report on the state of breast cancer. And, if breast cancer research and treatment were an Olympic event, the past year would not make it to the podium. Sadly, outside the work being accomplished by NBCC's Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®, not much has changed since last year.

As you read the report -- which must be read in conjunction with the 2011 Baseline Report -- you'll see that breast cancer incidence and mortality have remained essentially unchanged. There were no major advances in the treatment for breast cancer. Public perception continues to be skewed by the news media's misrepresentation. And public policy continues to play a significant role, though competition is stiff in the public health space.

Breast cancer advocates never expected that a single year would "turn it all around." After all, for more than 40 years, the business of breast cancer has worked within an infrastructure designed to achieve incremental -- if any -- progress. Given that point of reference, one would expect to see exactly what happened: no significant changes in preventing, finding, treating or curing breast cancer during the past year.

There was, however, one major exception -- NBCC's Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® campaign, which has moved forward rapidly. I have shared our progress with you in previous blogs as they have developed. I will continue to do that as we advance our campaign. For now, here are highlights of the actions taken to progress us toward an end to breast cancer:

  • During 2011, NBCC held two strategic summits focused on the priority areas of primary breast cancer prevention and the causes and prevention of breast cancer metastasis. Through our Artemis Project®, NBCC has created an innovative, advocate-led, mission-driven model, which ensures appropriate focus on the end result -- a preventive vaccine for breast cancer. Earlier this year, NBCC held the second annual meeting for the project and issued a request for proposals for the first seed grant to be distributed this summer. An additional call for proposals has been issued on another research topic within the project.
  • Based on NBCC's public policy work over the past years and the feedback gleaned during a January 2011 Public Policy Roundtable, NBCC developed the first piece of legislation to support and complement the work of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®. In September 2011, the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate in May 2012.
  • Our Center for NBCC Advocacy Training plays a key role in training breast cancer advocates to work in their communities and side-by-side with scientists to change the conversation in breast cancer, set research priorities and design and focus research on key areas that will end the disease by 2020. The Center trained advocates in several locations around the country while enhancing its online offerings to share beginner and advanced educational programs to advocates across the globe.
  • Continuing to push for a changed conversation about breast cancer is a priority for Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®. The media plays an important role in shaping public perception of issues -- and there are many misrepresentations about the disease in the media. To that end, NBCC convened and communicated with journalists, editors and others who work in the media to educate them about breast cancer and build their understanding of the realities and complexities of the disease and current barriers to progress. It is well known that the general public relies on the press to deliver health information. NBCC will continue to push for accurate coverage -- even when it is not what the public wants to hear.

Along with the 2012 Progress Report, we also are releasing our Blueprint for Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®, which describes how NBCC is harnessing the energy, resources and leadership around the world to achieve the goal of our deadline -- the end of breast cancer by January 1, 2020. NBCC will continue to point the way, create and facilitate collaborations, formulate and implement plans of action, and identify and push for the policies needed.

We have said all along -- and we will continue to say this to the end -- we cannot do this alone.

Ultimately, success will require unprecedented coordination, information sharing and accountability. It will require individuals and institutions to cooperate in new ways and to an extent never before considered. Other fields have achieved great success by taking this approach. There are signs the work we are doing to end breast cancer is beginning to take root. But to accomplish our goal, we must accelerate our efforts.

Like the gold medalists over the past two weeks, we must work harder and faster and be stronger in our resolve. In eight years, when we reach 2020 and the Summer Olympics are once again drawing the attention of the world, I want to be watching the games with the knowledge that we have figured out how to end breast cancer. That will be more satisfying than any photo finish, world record or gold medal.