The Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization has made a historic announcement. They intend to reduce the nation’s 40,000 breast cancer deaths by 50% in 10 years. These are bold numbers, but Susan G. Komen intends to accomplish this two ways: By improving access to quality cancer care for the under-served and by enhancing Komen’s research focus on lethal breast cancers.
“We know that people die of breast cancer for two reasons: a lack of high-quality breast cancer care accessible to everyone, and a lack of treatments for the most aggressive and deadly forms of this disease,” said Dr. Judith A. Salerno, president and CEO of Susan G. Komen. “We are taking direct action designed to solve these problems to reduce breast cancer deaths by half in the U.S. within the next decade.”
Providing Quality Care
Access to quality cancer care saves lives and for many, it’s just not a possibility at the moment. But now, a grant from the Fund II Foundation worth approximately $27 million will be put towards the Komen’s African-American Health Equity Initiative, a new program that will initially target 10 metropolitan areas to provide care to those who don’t currently have access to it, many of them African-American.
Currently, there is what Salerno named an “appalling” difference in death rates between African-American and white women. African-American women are nearly 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than white women; in some cities, that gap is as high as 74%. It’s unfathomable and points to the dire need for accessible, high-quality breast cancer care for everyone who needs it. “This constitutes a public health crisis that must be addressed, first in the cities where these death rates are highest, and then in all areas of the country,” Salerno said.
Salerno thanked Fund II Foundation for the grant that makes the initiative possible. “The generosity of Fund II Foundation will save lives,” Salerno said. “We are humbled by the faith that Fund II Foundation has placed in this initiative and its interest in ensuring health equity for African-American citizens.”
Fund II Foundation President, Robert F. Smith said, “No longer should African-American women be more likely to die from a breast cancer diagnosis than others. Through this grant supporting Susan G. Komen, Fund II Foundation will help address these unfair disparities across our country.”
Komen’s African-American Health Equity Initiative targets cities where mortality rates and late-stage diagnosis of African-American women are highest. The goal: to reduce the mortality gap by 25% within five years of beginning work in each city.
The initial targeted cities are: Memphis, TN; St. Louis, MO; Dallas, TX; Los Angeles, CA; Virginia Beach, VA; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, PA. Baltimore and Detroit have been identified as high-priority areas as the program expands over the next year.
The African-American Health Equity Initiative supplements the work that Komen and its network of 100 U.S. Affiliates already are doing to remove barriers to cancer care. Komen and Komen Affiliates support thousands of local programs that provide services such as screenings, treatment assistance, emergency financial aid, medical supplies and living expense for underserved individuals.
The organization has invested more than $2 billion over 34 years for these programs aimed at uninsured, under-insured, and medically vulnerable populations. “We will never waver from our commitment to remove barriers of language, geography, economics or culture for all people facing this disease. Every woman or man must be able to access and receive high-quality breast health and breast cancer care, be supported through their treatment and into survivorship,” Salerno said.
The second prong of Komen’s plan is research. Komen will enhance their focus on aggressive forms of breast cancer and metastatic disease (stage IV or cancer that has spread to other parts of the body). As the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research (investing more than $920 million since inception), Komen has funded nearly $160 million in metastatic disease research since its founding.
Komen has funded another $110 million in research on aggressive forms of breast cancer – such as triple negative, inflammatory breast cancer and hormone-positive forms of breast cancer – that are resistant to standard treatments.
“The majority of breast cancer deaths are from metastatic breast cancer. We also know that aggressive forms of breast cancer are more likely to recur and spread, so we are focusing our efforts in both of these areas,” Salerno said.
The new initiative aims to advance research into new treatments for aggressive and metastatic disease. Komen also will seek to leverage next-generation technology that can detect breast cancer at its very earliest stages to prevent recurrence and metastasis.
Progress to Date
Salerno said Komen’s bold goal builds on the progress of the breast cancer movement since Komen was founded in 1982. “Death rates from breast cancer have declined by 37 percent since 1990. We have more treatments than at any time in our history. We’ve come a very long way from a time when breast cancer couldn’t be discussed publicly. Our new bold goal requires us to take a deeper dive and stretch further to ensure that every woman or man can be told, ‘There is help and hope for you.’”