Get Involved in the Fight Against Metastatic Breast Cancer

Time is the world’s ultimate finite resource.

You might lose your cell phone, but you can probably get another one. Your favorite shirt may begin to fray, but you can find a new one you like. You might lose money in a bad investment, but you can even build your savings back up again.

The one thing you can never get back is time.

For those like us, living with late-stage breast cancer, we may have much less time than most. This reality makes us agonize over the best way to spend it. Children’s recitals, coffees with friends, watching TV, going to the clinic. Every moment spent doing one thing comes at the expense of another.

But what if we could make those moments a little less agonizing by doing what seems impossible: giving late-stage breast cancer patients more time?

Every year, late-stage breast cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer, claims the lives of 41,000 women and 500 men. That’s 110 lives every day.

Despite a deep commitment from breast cancer advocates across the globe who have sought to increase awareness of breast cancer treatment, detection, and screening, not enough attention has been given to the deadliest types of breast cancer.

This lack of focus means that metastatic breast cancer deaths have remained unchanged in over 20 years. The mean survival rate of patients is just three years following a diagnosis. That’s so little time.

It isn’t early stage breast cancer that kills. Most breast cancer deaths are ultimately caused by complications from metastatic disease. These deaths occur in late-stage breast cancer, when it spreads to other parts of the body, typically the bones, brain, lungs, or liver.

Today, it is estimated that up to 30%(1) of breast cancer patients will develop metastatic disease in their lifetime. And while millions of dollars have been spent researching the many types of breast cancer, only about 7% of all research dollars for breast cancer are targeted to metastatic disease treatment.

The good news is there are actions we can take right now to put a spotlight on metastatic breast cancer and direct the appropriate funds to combat it.

For example, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) collects data on cancer cases that are metastatic at initial diagnosis. But right now, they don’t track patients whose cancer is initially diagnosed as early stage and later metastasizes. As a result, we only have estimates about how many people have metastatic breast cancer.

The way data is collected is important as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NCI figures drives how much money the government will spend on research. And the US government is by far the biggest sponsor of this research. Even with investments from private foundations such as Susan G. Komen, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Metavivor, they pale in comparison to what the US government spends on cancer research. Without an accurate count of how many people are living with metastatic disease, research funding will continue to lag, and cures will too.

But research alone is not enough. We also need to tackle the issues of access to clinical trials, quality healthcare and innovative treatments. Breakthroughs happen every day at cancer research centers here in Washington and around the world. We must work with and encourage physicians, drug manufacturers and insurers to make sure that patients can obtain necessary breast health services, participate in clinical trials, and access the most effective treatments. This includes making sure that novel treatment options are available and covered by insurers for metastatic breast cancer patients.

To learn more and get involved in the fight against metastatic breast cancer, visit the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance at www.mbcalliance.org. We also encourage you to get in touch with your elected officials to urge action; click here to find out who represents you. We can find more time. But we need your help.

Beth Caldwell, J.D.
Co-founder, MetUp
Co-chair, Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference

Lynda Weatherby, MHA
Co-chair, Northwest Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference

1 Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (http://www.keepmeinthepicture.com/get-the-facts/)