02/27/2012 05:26 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

Leap Year 2012: What to Do with Those Extra 24? Help End Breast Cancer

I could not resist using the fact that this is a Leap Year to talk about the need for more than incremental progress in breast cancer. If you will forgive me, a "leap" forward.

But first, I want to remind you that in a Leap Year we get an extra 24 hours. This Leap Year, on February 29, I encourage you to use those additional hours to become more involved in breast cancer advocacy, to take very specific steps toward the goal of ending the disease. We have less than eight years to achieve the goal of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® -- the end of breast cancer by January 1, 2020. Everyone has a role in helping us get there. Every single day counts.

The National Breast Cancer Coalition is implementing its strategic plan of action to reach the deadline. The strategy is to figure out how to stop breast cancer from developing in the first place so that future generations -- our daughters, sons, granddaughters -- will not have to worry about this issue. The strategy also will figure out how to stop metastasis, the spread of breast cancer to other organs, which accounts for 90 percent of breast cancer deaths. So if women do get breast cancer, they will not die of it.

What we are doing takes a leap of faith, a willingness to challenge the status quo and a commitment to many years of very difficult, hard work. How do we expect to end breast cancer? When we set Breast Cancer Deadline 2020®, we knew we first had to pilot test various models to see how we could achieve the deadline. Today I want to tell you a bit about our work on a five year plan to achieve a preventive vaccine, the first of our Artemis Projects™. I am actually spending my extra 24 hours working on this project. It is important to recognize that this vaccine project is just one of several areas of focus for our deadline campaign. We are working on several other overarching issues in both primary prevention and preventing metastasis. But we had to begin with an issue around which we could create, build and test a model for collaboration and progress. We have been refining this model for the past two years and are ready to apply it to other questions that have arisen in our deadline work.

We brought together a collaborative group of advocates and scientists to take a strategic, systematic, yet broad approach to the design of a five-year development plan for a breast cancer preventive vaccine. That five-year focus is a key component of this project. There were a few researchers working on a preventive vaccine and others were beginning to consider that approach. We could let the scientific community continue to work as they see fit on the issue, in silos, each forging their own path. Except we chose to take the reins, expand the field, set a deadline and goal, and lead a collaboration to focus on the issue.

What do we need to do in this arena over the next five years? We need to figure out the most effectual and safest targets for a vaccine, targets that would provide the broadest coverage for the most women from the many types of breast cancer. A few possible targets have already been identified, but we want to take a systematic approach to identifying and evaluating all possible targets to find the best candidates. We also want to learn more about the immune system's response to breast cancer to understand what the vaccine needs to accomplish in the body. How does the body successfully respond to atypical cells that have the potential to develop into breast tumor cells?

And we need to identify the population of women for a clinical trial. Should it be all healthy women? Women at high risk? Women who have had breast cancer and have not recurred? We also must have a plan to ensure safety because with true primary prevention we are intervening in a healthy population. The majority of women will never develop breast cancer regardless of whether they have a vaccine. We must ensure that the vaccine itself carries no risks of harm.

We can also look at the possibility of a vaccine to prevent metastasis and will do so concurrently with the primary prevention vaccine work. I know this is tough stuff. Complex. Somewhat intimidating. But what a leap forward it would be if we could figure it out.

So, what will you do with your extra 24? While I do not expect everyone to spend those hours focused on genomics and vaccine technology, I do believe every one of us has a powerful role to play in this challenge to end breast cancer.

The first step is to galvanize momentum for Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® by changing the conversation where it is happening so we can achieve what we all want--the end of breast cancer. Use Leap Day 2012 as a day to tell others "I'm ready for the end of breast cancer!"

Visit our website for more ideas. With a full 24 extra hours this year, there are many more things you can do. Share your own ideas on our Facebook page on February 29. Encourage your networks to spread the word and ask their friends to join this day of action. We will highlight some of the creative and unique ideas you share on our Facebook page. Plus you'll be entered in a drawing for a Breast Cancer Deadline 2020® prize pack.

I'm very serious about ending breast cancer. The extra 24 hours comes only every four years, and after tomorrow, we will have just one more Leap Year before our deadline, January 1, 2020. The clock is ticking. Are you ready for the end of breast cancer? Do something today to help us get there.