The Push to Prevent the Need for Pink Ribbons

The Push to Prevent the Need for Pink Ribbons

With October comes the presence of pink ribbons; businesses hang them from skyscrapers, cities hang them from trees and fountains turn pink. It is all to stand with those battling and those who lost their battle with breast cancer. One organization wants to make it so those ribbons aren’t necessary.

Two years ago, the National Breast Cancer Coalition began an initiative that would end breast cancer by 2020.

“By 2020, we want to know how to prevent breast cancer and how to prevent the spread of it,” said Laura Nikolaides, Director of Research & Quality Care Programs for the NBCC.

That is either a prevention of breast cancer itself, through something like a vaccine, or a prevention of the metastasis – which is when it spreads through the body.

The first reaction of many is to ask whether that is realistic.

“We haven’t talked that way because we feel like the deadline was a tool that changes everything,” Nikolaides said. “What if we fail and we get to 2020 and we haven’t achieved this? Well, we’re already failing.”

She points to the thousands of women who still die from breast cancer each year.

“This is a new approach that we believe will make a difference,” Nikolaides said.

She has personal experience with breast cancer.

“I am just recently a five-year survivor. I was diagnosed [with stage 3 breast cancer] in May 2007,” she said. “It was pretty scary.”

Nikolaides has a background in science, a Masters in nutritional biochemistry from Cornell, and it surprised her when she found out just what doctors could do for her.

“You think we know so much more than we really do,” she said. “The treatments are basically the same ones they’ve been for decades. It’s still somewhat of a crap shoot of whether or not you’ll end up dying.”

However, doctors are using new drugs all the time. About a quarter of all breast cancer patients get help from a drug called Herceptin. That is just one of many recently developed drugs that helps fight cancer.

Another of those drugs is called Taxotere. That drug helped save Susan Rafte’s life. Rafte helps run the Pink Ribbons Project.

To realize the NBCC’s goal, researchers are developing hundreds of vaccines to prevent or treat various forms of cancer. Some companies are studying forms of immunotherapies and labs like the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas use teams of researchers to develop treatments and vaccines as fast as possible.

The 2020 Deadline initiative also aims to change public policy (a bill is already in front of the House and Senate called the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act), and change the public’s conversation around breast cancer.

“We recognize that we won’t get to the point where no one has it [by 2020],” she said. “What we’re trying to do with these strategies is change the paradigm, change the conversation.”

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One reason the conversation takes center stage in October is because that is when the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation holds many of its Race for the Cure in cities across the country. Click here to find out when your local race is scheduled.

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