It’s October, it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the U.S. is awash in a sea of bubblegum pink. The most recognizable, of course, is that of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and their ubiquitous pink ribbon, pink t-shirts, and potentially carcinogenic co-branded pink products.
In recent years, and particularly in light of their defunding and subsequent re-funding of Planned Parenthood earlier this year, Komen has come under increased scrutiny for their fundraising and fund-distributing efforts. Despite fighting to trademark the phrase “for the cure” and declaring a goal of “ending breast cancer forever,” in 2011 SGK devoted less than a quarter of their funds to research and 7 percent to treatment. Administrative and fundraising costs accounted for 17 percent.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to help “end breast cancer forever”–catch it early, treat it effectively, and discover and eliminate the reasons it occurs in the first place–without going through SGK. The simplest way is just to go straight to the source.
Breast cancer screening
The National Breast Cancer Foundation. The NBCF’s National Mammography Program has established partnerships with health facilities in 49 states to offer free mammograms and patient navigation. A $100 donation will fund one free mammogram. Donate to the NBCF (and check them out on Charity Navigator)
Planned Parenthood. Public response to Komen’s defunding of Planned Parenthood was outrageous, with more than $3 million in donations coming in within days of the announcement. Planned Parenthood has directed those funds into their Breast Health Initiative, which will allow PP providers to give referrals and grants for followup care for women who can’t afford it. Donate to Planned Parenthood (and check them out on Charity Navigator)
Causes of breast cancer
The Sister Study. The NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH) Sister Study looks at environmental and familial risk factors for breast cancer. The Sister Study itself follows 50,000 women whose sisters have had breast cancer, and the subsequent Two Sisters Study follows participants and their sisters and living parents in cases where the sister was diagnosed before age 50. The study began in 2004 and is expected to last 10 or more years, assessing risks from genetics to diet to environmental exposures. Donate to the NIEHS (direct funds to support the NIEHS Sister Study)
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The FHCRC is doing extensive research into all kinds of potential cancer causes including cadmium exposure, hormone replacement therapy, Depo-Provera, and environmental exposures like radiation, pollutants, and electromagnetic fields, as well as investigation into cancer health disparities. Donate to the FHCRC
The Breast Cancer Research Foundation. While the BCRF is, itself, a charity, it’s one that devotes 88 percent of public support to research grants. They divide their donations into “research on cancer formation” and “research on cure and prevention,” and they further divide the former into inherited susceptibility, external effects, and irregular cellular activities. Donate to the BCRF, or look at their lists of grantees and donate to any of them directly. Donate to the BCRF (and check them out on Charity Navigator)
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center. UAB researchers leading a phase 2 clinical trials of a monoclonal antibody that shows promise in targeting a “death receptor” in tumor cells while sparing normal cells. Combined with chemo and/or radiation, this could be a major advance in treating aggressive and deadly triple-negative breast cancer. Donate to the UABCCC
UAB also is participating in phase 1 clinical trials for 9cUAB30, a synthetic retinoic acid analogue (derived from vitamin A) that shows promise in reducing the chance of breast cancer in high-risk women as effectively as the most frequently used methods, but without the toxicity.
The University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center UC researchers are studying population variants to determine whether genetics influences response to chemotherapy drugs–both in effectiveness and in toxicity–and how to use that information to find the best treatment for any given patient. Donate to the UCCCC
Breast cancer vaccines
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Researchers at Johns Hopkins are in clinical trials for a treatment vaccine designed to induce the immune system to attack cancer cells. The vaccine has shown promise in trials with patients with advanced breast cancer, and results from phase II trials of the vaccine in combination with chemotherapy drugs are awaiting publication. Donate to Johns Hopkins (designate your gift for the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center; directing your gifts specifically to the breast cancer SPORE isn’t available as an option)
MD Anderson Cancer Center. Researchers at MD Anderson are in phase II clinical trials for a vaccine with the potential to reduce recurrence in breast cancer patients. The vaccine induces the patient’s immune system to recognize and attack the HER2 protein. Donate to MD Anderson
And a few research keywords to look for (if that sort of thing is important to you)
Comprehensive. An NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center performs basic-science, population, and clinical research, along with evidence-based education and outreach. Research efforts are interdisciplinary, collaborative, and frequently multi-center and cover prevention to diagnosis to treatment to survivorship. Currently, 41 cancer centers hold the “comprehensive” designation.
SPORE. A Special Program of Research Excellence holds a five-year NCI grant for translational research based around cancer of a specific organ. The focus in on finding new and better methods for preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer with an emphasis on getting those methods into use–a SPORE is required to have human application by the end of the grant. The NCI currently is funding 11 breast cancer SPORES.
Translational research. “Bench-to-bedside” translational research takes basic-science discoveries from the lab and turns them into practical therapies for patients in a clinical setting. Scientists and clinicians work in close contact (and sometimes are the same person) to advance treatments and best practices.