I have attended NBCC’s Annual Advocacy Conference (now called Summit) as a metastatic breast cancer patient every year since 2006. The content of this Summit, held on May 5 through May 8, was significantly different from past gatherings.
First, this year’s presentations clearly emphasized what we do not know about breast cancer.
- Why do some breast cancer cells remain dormant years and even decades after the primary tumor was removed and then return as invasive or metastatic disease?
- What distinguishes different types of breast cancer, and why does this make breast cancer difficult to treat?
- What causes some cancer cells to metastasize or travel to other organs of the body?
- How and why do cancer cells keep changing over the course of treatments, making treatment selection and efficacy difficult?
The lack of scientific answers to these questions clearly hinders efforts to end deaths from breast cancer and extend the lives of metastatic patients.
Second, there was an atmosphere of urgency throughout this Summit. The program title said it succinctly—“It’s Time.” It is time to end breast cancer and deaths from breast cancer. This message is very different from what the public hears during breast cancer awareness month. Urgency is at the core of NBCC’s Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 which seeks to focus attention on preventing the disease AND discovering the causes of the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body—bones, lungs, liver and brain. Plenary sessions that focused on metastasis included the following:
- Ann Chambers, PhD., explained her research on tumor dormancy and metastasis;
- Yibin Kang, PhD, discussed his efforts to soon begin testing a new drug for bone metastasis;
- Alana Welm, PhD, shared her success to develop different types of metastasis models in living mice so that personalized breast cancer treatments can be tested within a living organism.
In my view, these summit presentations furthered the goal of the metastatic community to educate the larger breast cancer community about our disease and need for treatments to extend our lives.
Finally, the Summit offered excellent sessions on how patient advocates can learn from other social change movements, like the AIDS movement, to redefine the status quo, empower patients through education about their disease, and pressure for more treatment options.
As a patient advocate who has worked diligently on behalf of metastatic breast cancer patients for many years, I personally support NBCC’s Breast Cancer Deadline 2020. When scientists can explain how and why cancer cells travel to other parts of the body, metastatic patients may realize treatments to keep their disease contained.
And, since advocacy is not just about oneself, I welcome research that will prevent my sons and nieces from getting breast cancer or being told they have metastatic breast cancer.
All best wishes,