Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
The Champions of Change program is testament to the impact that one person can have in improving our world. As I listened to the other Champions in the fight against breast cancer, I was struck by the passion and dedication we all have for this important battle. I am inspired by Ambassador Nancy Brinker, whose promise to her dying sister Susan has grown into the world’s largest grassroots movement in the fight against breast cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I am proud to be a part of this organization that has provided $1.9 billion for breast cancer research and supported every significant advance in breast cancer treatment since 1982.
Our challenge today is to ensure that every woman has access to screening and to continue the translational research that can deliver the cure. Even though the survival rate for breast cancer detected early has increased from 74% to 98% in the past 30 years, not every woman gets regular mammograms. The CDC reported last year that only 75% of women who should have had a mammogram reported having one in the prior two years. Among women with insurance, only 50% reported getting regular mammograms. The barriers are many---economics, access to screening facilities, education, language, transportation, and fear. As the Affordable Care Act expands access, there should be a parallel push to expand utilization. This is also something all advocates can do---promote screening and early detection among your families, friends, coworkers, and communities. You never know if the woman you convince to get a mammogram will have her life saved as a result.
When a woman or man is diagnosed with breast cancer, there is a big gap in access to the latest treatments and clinical trials. Where you live in this country should not determine your ability to receive the most effective treatment or participate in the latest clinical trial. Komen and other organizations are helping to fund the scientists who are seeking the cures, but unless there is a way to bring these treatments to the patients in need, we will fail in this battle. Current drug shortages also jeopardize a breast cancer patient’s access to evidence-based care. Private/public partnerships are the key to effective education programs to reduce disparities in treatment outcomes and increase collaboration among researchers.
In 2011, it’s estimated that almost 40,000 women in the United States will die from breast cancer. That’s not acceptable. If we are the champions, we must continue to be advocates at local, state, and national levels. Our vision is to end breast cancer forever. Accomplishing this goal will require the commitment of all of us—to ensure that effective screening and treatment is available to every person in the United States.
Elyse Gellerman is an Affiliate representative to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Board of Directors, and Senior Vice President of Provider Strategies for Aspen Healthcare Metrics, a MedAssets company.