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World Cancer Day: How Far We’ve Come, And How Far We Still Have To Go To Create A World Without Breast Cancer

In the late 1970s, when Susan Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer little was known about the disease and access to screening and effective treatments were hard to come by. There was also a lot of fear and myths about the disease. People would cross the street from her afraid that they might “catch” her cancer. And while a lot has changed since those days, many women across the globe face those same fears, myths and lack of access to basic care.

On this World Cancer Day, Susan G. Komen President and CEO, Paula Schneider spoke to employees at technology leader Salesforce highlighting how far we’ve come, how far we still have to go, and simple ways that they can help.

Thanks to access to regular screenings, we are detecting and treating cancers earlier. And thanks to research, our understanding of how to treat this family of diseases has and improved. We now have an arsenal of targeted treatments. The combination of early detection and more effective treatments has helped us decrease the mortality rate for breast cancer in the U.S. by 40 percent since 1989. 

Yet for all of our progress, we still have a lot of work to do. 42,000 people are still dying every year in the U.S. For all of our targeted treatments, we still have not cracked the riddle of metastatic breast cancer – stage IV disease, where the breast cancer has spread to other vital organs of the body. At some point in time, those living with metastatic breast cancer know that every treatment we currently have will fail them. That’s why we must continue to invest in new breakthroughs.

At the same time, not everyone here – or across the globe – has equal access to quality care. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and the second leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States. Every 60 seconds, somewhere in the world, a woman dies from breast cancer. That’s more than 1,400 women every day.

African-American women living in the United States are 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. There are many reasons for this, some are biological, come are social. African-American women are often diagnosed later when treatments are limited, costly and the prognosis is poor; and diagnosed younger and with more aggressive breast cancers. We are doing a couple of things to combat this – from research, to community outreach to public education. 

Internationally, the number of new breast cancer cases has more than doubled around the world in the last three decades, with the highest increases throughout North Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Western sub-Saharan Africa and Central Latin America. Breast cancer is also the leading cause of cancer death in low-resource countries around the world. These trends are concerning, which is why Komen works tirelessly to provide support to breast health programs worldwide.

We believe it takes collaboration and strong partnerships to make a global impact. We strive to serve as a “bridge” – partnering with international nonprofits, corporations and Ministries of Health to bring together people and organizations who share our passion. Through these partnerships, we are able to develop programs that are sensitive to cultural differences and tailored to the specific needs of the community.

This World Cancer Day let’s all commit to doing whatever we can to create a world where no one dies from breast cancer.