Helping to End Breast Cancer by 2020

Patient Expert

I have been skeptical about the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Deadline 2020 campaign towards knowing how to end breast cancer by 2020.

I’ve lived through all sorts of end-cancer campaigns, and people are still dying.

Discouraging progress

Yes, the overall mortality from breast cancer has declined by 30 percent since President Nixon declared a war on cancer.  During the almost 20 years that I have been following breast cancer news, I have known more women who live for years with Stage IV disease because of new drugs.

I’ve watched the promising seduction of early detection turn out to be a tease.  Yes, many cancers are caught early, but it turns out that the glorious five-year stats brought to us by catching lumps at Stage I or earlier don’t prevent about 30 percent of early stage cancers from metastasizing and killing breast cancer patients.

Drugs heralded in small early trials too often don’t work on real life patients in larger trials.  Breakthrough after breakthrough has turned out to be disappointing.  So when I heard about the 2020 campaign five years ago, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “Yeah, right.”

Deadline 2020

I’ve been learning more about the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) and its bold campaign—I think you need to know how this may be different than previous efforts.  The deadline focuses on preventing breast cancer metastasis because that’s the kind of cancer that kills people.  If scientists can discover how cancer spreads, they can develop therapies to stop the spread.  Even better, if they can learn what causes breast cancer in the first place, they can prevent the disease from developing.

That all sounds great, but if it were that easy why hasn’t it already been done?  Part of the problem, according to the NBCC, is that researchers too often work in isolation.  The research part of Deadline 2020 is called the Artemis Project®.  The genius behind it is bringing together scientists from different institutions and disciplines to craft specific scientific questions and strategize ways to answer them.  Grants and funding concentrate on primary prevention and on preventing metastasis.

The NBCC thinks that setting a deadline gives an urgency to the mission.  It doesn’t promise that breast cancer will end in 2020, but works towards that date to know how to end breast cancer deaths by then.  It also works for global access to treatment.  Breast cancer doesn’t have national borders.

What does this have to do with us who aren’t researchers?  As people whose lives have been touched by breast cancer, we know breast cancer from the inside out, so we can act.  We can educate ourselves about breast cancer basics. We can choose how we talk about breast cancer to our friends.  We can decide which breast cancer pictures and ribbons to share on a Facebook page.  We can pay attention to the news and support public policies that we believe in.   When we contribute to breast cancer organizations, we can choose ones worthy of our time and money.

Awareness gone to the dogs

This weekend, some of my on-line friends have been outraged by a picture designed to raise awareness of breast cancer.  The picture shows dogs wearing bras stuffed to about a size DD.  Besides the indignity for the dogs, people felt the picture suggests that what is important about breast cancer treatment is saving breasts—that breast cancer is about sexuality.  The picture touched a nerve because awareness campaigns are everywhere while doing little to save lives.  Many of the women who commented on the picture have metastatic breast cancer—they have already lost their breasts and are fighting to live.  A comment from a male telling them to enjoy the humor of the picture and to not be bitter escalated the conversation into a full-blown argument.

Taking action

While I am the first to believe that laughter can be the best medicine, I’ll think twice about what I retweet or repost on social media.  I will write my legislators in support of spending research dollars wisely focused on prevention and ending breast cancer deaths.  I will make sure that the cancer organizations I give money to spend it wisely and in the directions that will make a real difference.

Fran Visco, president of NBCC, told advocates gathered in May 2015,

“No one ever said our mission would be easy. No one ever said it wouldn’t be a bit scary. But we have to do this because if we don’t, who will? It's more than time.”

For More on Breast Cancer Efforts:

[“Breast Cancer Bombshell”:  Reality or Media Hype?]( ""Breast Cancer Bombshell": Reality or Media Hype?")

Giving to Cancer Charities:  As Easy as ABC

Not So Harmless:  Breast Cancer Awareness Games

Project LEAD®:  Learning about Breast Cancer


Harris, R.  Breast Cancer Patients Seek More Control over Research Agenda.  NPR All Things Considered. Sept. 16, 2014.  Accessed from Aug. 31, 2015.

Kabat, G. Can Setting a Deadline Put an End to Breast Cancer?  Forbes. April 29, 2014.  Accessed from August 31, 2015.

Visco, F.  Keynote Address: At the Midpoint of Breast Cancer Deadline 2020.  Lecture delivered at 2020 Advocate Leadership Summit.  Washington, DC. May 2, 2015.  Accessed from August 31, 2015.