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Where is the Cure For Breast Cancer?

Thank you Sunny Sea Gold and Refinery 29 for this thoughtful and indepth article! Here are some key excerpts: 

“People don’t understand that people with metastatic breast cancer are always in treatment,” says Shirley Mertz, president of the non-profit Metastatic Breast Cancer Network, who has been living with MBC for 12 years.”Even if a treatment helps at first, most will stop working after a period of time, and patients must try other drugs (all of which come with their own sets of risks and benefits). “Anxiety goes up and down in waves,” says Mertz. “We wait until our next scan, and if the cancer is stable, we stay on our current medications. If the scan is bad, and the cancer has grown or come back, we change treatments.”

“I met my first patient with breast cancer when I was 26, in the 1980s, and for me it was really striking how many young women were in the hospital dying of metastatic breast cancer,” saysMatthew Ellis, MD, PhD, a breast cancer physician and metastasis researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Thirty years later, women do better, but it’s still the number-one cause of death from disease in women between the ages of 25 and 50. Metastatic breast cancer takes women in the prime of their lives, and we still don’t have a solution for it.”

What could actually move the needle is a new political movement, similar to the one that evolved around HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and ’90s, Dr. Ellis says. “There was an enormous outcry and push to find a cure because AIDS was new and terrifying — and now, instead of AIDS being horrible and lethal, it’s a chronic disease that people can live normal lifespans with, [with] treatment,” he says. “Well, metastatic breast cancer is an old disease, but it’s still terrifying. To some extent, people are perhaps desensitized about breast cancer deaths — we’re not as shocked by it as we should be. But as a breast cancer physician, I’m shocked every day.”

And all of this awareness has led to meaningful progress. Overall breast cancer death rates in the U.S. decreased 36% between 1989 and 2012, according to the latest figures. And smaller strides have been made for metastatic patients as well, says Marc Hurlbert, PhD, chief mission officer for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and chair of the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance. Thirty years ago, the median survival time after a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (MBC) was two years; now, it’s three years, and some people can live for more than a decade. But for women like Kudirka, those forgotten survivors who don’t fit the mainstream profile of the disease and who are currently living with it, this incremental progress still means very little.

The good news: Many of the components needed to find a cure are beginning to come together, albeit slowly. “Where we are with metastatic breast cancer is comparable to where we were with early-stage cancer a decade or two ago,” Dr. Hurlbert says. “The overall survival has improved a little bit, and we’re headed in the right direction. The question is: How can we make it go in the right direction even faster?”

Read the entire article here