Pink ribbons will soon be flying on American Airlines planes. American Airlines, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center plan to raise $8 million dollars for the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic. Two American Airlines planes decorated with a huge pink ribbon were recently dedicated to announce the program. The money will go specifically for research into inflammatory breast cancer (IBC).
According to an email I received from the Komen folks, "This American Airlines Susan G. Komen for the Cure Promise Grant will fund a unique team of patient advocates, breast medical oncologists, breast surgeons, imaging specialists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, physician scientists and basic scientists who will work together over the next five years. This Promise Grant team will focus on using the latest laboratory discoveries - in genomics, proteomics and nanotechnology - to rapidly find ways to diagnose IBC earlier, and to tailor treatments targeted specifically at this aggressive form of breast cancer."
Watch a video about the Promise Grant:
This news has created a stir in the inflammatory breast cancer community. I've received quite a few emails forwarding press releases and celebrating this news. For IBC patients, finding accurate research data has been difficult. Many clinical trials of breast cancer drugs have specifically excluded IBC patients from the data pool. When IBC patients have been included, their data may not be reported separately or may be lumped in with Locally Advanced Breast Cancer or all Stage III patients. Thus, no one has known for sure what works for IBC, and patients have to make treatment decisions without reliable research data.
Why has research been so skimpy? One reason is that it's hard to accumulate enough IBC patients for a large-scale study. The smaller the number of patients, the less likely the results are to be statistically valid.
Another reason has been the mind-set of researchers and research funders. IBC is generally considered rare. Why throw money and time at a disease that may account for as little as 1% of all breast cancers? Or is that 10% of all breast cancers? The estimates are all over the place because the research has been so skimpy and the studies so small.
Thanks to the work of the IBC Research Foundation and other IBC advocates, researchers are getting interested in learning more about IBC. It may constitute a tiny portion of breast cancer cases, but it causes a disproportionate number of breast cancer deaths, perhaps as high as 20% of all breast cancer deaths.
The higher death rate for African American women from breast cancer is often attributed to poor access to health services, but perhaps it's time for someone to make a connection between black women's higher mortality rate and their higher rate of IBC.
If you don't have IBC, why should you care about that money going to IBC research? Research into this most aggressive breast cancer, will come up with an understanding of the basic science of breast cancer and how it spreads. It will develop new drugs that will be available to treat all types of breast cancer, and maybe other types of cancer too. And if it can make a dent in the mortality rate from IBC, it will substantially reduce the number of cancer funerals we attend.