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Hopes and Realities

Posted 2/11/2013

Posted in

  Many of you are familiar with the ambitious goal set by the National Breast Cancer Coalition ( to eradicate breast cancer by 2020. This is a powerful idea and one that we surely want to be able to support. Bill Clinton, whose mother died of breast cancer, has signed on to chair the crusade, and many fine people are fully behind it. There is, however, another side to the story.

  This excellent essay from Nature lays out the not so terrific realities: basically this means that cancer is an incredibly complicated problem, and there likely will not be a way to end metastatic cancer and death and women being diagnosed in the first place by 2020--and probably for many, many years thereafter. I am a saddened realist about this as I have watched so much hype about one or another treatment over the years, and also watched as it didn't quite turn out that way. The overall survival statistics for breast cancer have not changed much for decades. What has changed is that many women are living much longer with metastatic disease as there indeed are many useful treatments that prolong life. They don't save lives.

  Here is the start and a link. I encourage you to read this sobering reminder.

Hope is not a good strategy, in life or in disease research. So the

setting of goals, and the drive to reach them, is to be commended,

and cancer is no exception. But a 2020 deadline for

‘ending’ breast cancer that former US President Bill Clinton endorsed

earlier this month is misguided. Like other ‘beat cancer’ deadlines

that are regularly floated, it is potentially harmful to the public trust

that underpins the whole research enterprise, not to mention to the

patients who understandably cling to hope, whatever its validity.

Clinton, who lost his mother to breast cancer, has become honorary

chairman of a two-year-old campaign by the National Breast Cancer

Coalition, which declares on its website that it has “One Mission: To End

Breast Cancer by January 1, 2020”. The advocacy and research-funding

organization, based in Washington DC, adds that it has a “strategic plan”

to achieve that mission, by focusing on prevention and on eliminating

the metastatic form of the disease, which is what kills.


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