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Strengthening the Fight Against Metastatic Breast Cancer

10/13/2020

October 13 is National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day, which brings awareness to metastatic breast cancer and  the estimated 150,000 - 250,000 women and men living with metastatic breast cancer in the U.S.

 

Metastatic breast cancer (mBC) refers to cancer that has spread outside of the breast to other organs such as bones, liver, lung or brain. Once breast cancer becomes metastatic, it can be difficult to cure, and treatments seek to control the spread of the disease or improve quality of life for patients.

 

Over the past few decades, there has been considerable progress in the detection, research and treatment for breast cancer. However, gains in survival have mostly benefited patients with early stage breast cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of 99% or 86% depending on whether it is caught and treated locally or regionally. In contrast, the average five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with mBC is 26%.

 

In the United States, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, with 42,170 dying each year. mBC will cause the vast majority of those deaths. At any given time, an estimated 150,000-250,000 women in the U.S. currently are living with this disease.

America’s biopharmaceutical researchers are committed to developing and discovering new treatments to help people living with metastatic breast cancer fight their disease.

A growing understanding of tumor biology has helped advance new medicines and therapies for people living with breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer. For instance, scientists have learned that breast cancer is actually not one disease, but a group of diseases resulting from different molecular or genetic determinants. In other words, what causes one person’s cancer may be entirely different than what causes cancer in someone else, regardless of how they appear on the surface. A breast cancer diagnosis today typically includes genetic screening of from about 20 to as many as 400 different genes involved in breast cancer. The results are used to guide and personalize treatment.

 

As we increase our understanding of these genetic drivers, researchers have developed medicines that better address cancer’s distinct, underlying causes, which can lead to more targeted treatment and help reduce unwanted side effects. For instance, HER2-enriched (HR-/HER2+) breast cancer historically has had the worst prognosis; however, the widespread use of targeted therapies for HER2+ cancers has substantially improved outcomes for these patients, according to the American Cancer Society.

 

While there is no cure for mBC, scientists are working to develop effective treatments in the hope that one day, mBC could become a chronic, manageable disease—similar to HIV.
 

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Cancer is a complex disease and it will take an equally complex solution.

 

Since peaking in the 1990s, cancer death rates have declined 29%, which translates to 2.9 million fewer cancer deaths 1991-2017. Approximately 73% of survival gains are attributable to new treatments, including medicines. New medicines have contributed to a 2.2% decline in death rates between 2016 and 2017, the largest single-year drop ever reported.

 

Accordingly, rates of cancer survivorship continue to rise. The number of cancer survivors living in the United States has increased from three million in 1971 to 16.9  million in 2019.

 

While the challenge of breast cancer remains, America’s biopharmaceutical companies have made substantial progress in recent decades toward finding effective treatments for the disease, providing hope for continued success in discovering new solutions. As policy debates in Washington continue regarding the future of biomedical R&D, it’s critical we don’t lose sight of the vitality of the current drug discovery and development ecosystem that has helped make a difference in the lives of people living with cancer, as well as helped make the United States the global leader in medical innovation.