9 Names to Know in the Fight Against Breast Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, there is a 1 in 8 chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer during her lifetime, and a 1 in 36 chance that she will die of the disease. Meet nine ordinary people who are making extraordinary strides to lower those odds even further.
Mary-Claire King: Discovered the BRCA1 gene
Angelina Jolie would not have made headlines in April as a BRCA1 carrier if it hadn’t been for Mary-Claire King, PhD, who discovered the BRCA1 gene in 1990 as a professor of genetics at Berkeley. Today, doctors know that women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene are five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women who don’t carry the mutated gene.
Nancy G. Brinker: Keeping a promise alive
Since 1982, Nancy G. Brinker has been fighting to put an end to breast cancer, forever, with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an organization that has poured nearly $2 billion into research, awareness, outreach, and advocacy in more than 50 countries. In 2013 alone, more than $42 million went to 112 research grants. Currently there are 547 Komen-funded research teams in 39 states and 10 countries working to end breast cancer; 2,500 tissue and blood samples in the Komen Tissue Bank donated by healthy women to aid in worldwide research; and 265 young scientists being supported through Komen’s training and career grants. For her astounding contributions, Brinker was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Dr. Susan Love: Dedicated to ending the disease
Susan Love, MD, author of the best-selling Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book, is resoundingly sure that one day breast cancer will be no more. Her eponymous foundation, which began in 1983, has raised $3.2 million for researching the cause of breast cancer, and it is now working with Army of Women to recruit volunteers for important studies. “The key to ending breast cancer is learning how to stop it before it starts,” Love says. “I think we will find the cause and have a way to prevent it, be it a vaccine or the knowledge about how to avoid cancer in the first place.”
Brittany Wenger: Created technology for better diagnoses
While most 17-year-olds were busy with prom, Brittany Wenger created the computer program Cloud4Cancer. It diagnoses breast cancer in less than a second based on fine needle aspirations (FNAs), the quick, inexpensive breast cancer test that’s also the least invasive. Winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair, Cloud4Cancer has a nearly perfect success rate; using sample data from 700 cancer patients to run 7.6 million trials, 99.1 percent of cases were diagnosed correctly. Now a freshman at Duke University, Wenger is working with researchers in the United States and Europe to beta-test her program, and believes that broad usage by doctors is a reality. Dr. Susan Love says Wenger’s research is valuable “by making [FNAs] more viable throughout the world.”
Patricia Steeg: Working to prevent tumor cells from spreading
About 20 years ago, Patricia Steeg, PhD, discovered the very first gene that halts metastasis—the spread of tumor cells from the primary tumor to other parts of the body—which is a major cause of death in cancer patients. Scientists have now discovered 30 metastasis suppressor genes (MSG), and Steeg is currently working on preventing tumors from spreading altogether, specifically brain metastasis of breast cancer, as in her recent paper.
Joe W. Gray and Dennis Slamon: Discovering less toxic treatments
Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) encourages “collaboration instead of competition” among the cancer research community and has given $161 million to 500 scientists to find innovative cancer therapies. Joe W. Gray, PhD, and Dennis Slamon, MD, PhD, are leading SU2C’s Breast Cancer Dream Team on a $16.5 million project to discover more about how cancer cells “outsmart” medicinal agents designed to kill them, in hopes of developing new, less toxic therapies to beat the disease.
David Jay: Showing the healing
It started as a photo shoot of an old friend diagnosed with breast cancer and turned into the SCAR Project, an awareness movement showing the private side of breast cancer that the general public doesn’t often see. “I have yet to meet anyone who has said they previously knew what breast cancer looked like,” says Jay, whose vivid photos of more than 100 young women with breast cancer ages 18 to 35 capture hope, reflection, and healing. “It’s not about breast cancer but the human condition itself,” says Jay. “The images intend to transcend the disease, illuminating the scars that unite us all.”
Alisa Savoretti: Helps survivors afford surgery
For three years Alisa Savoretti danced in Las Vegas as the “Lopsided Showgirl,” a breast-cancer survivor who was uncertain as to whether she could pay for reconstructive surgery. After she was finally able to proceed with the surgery, Savoretti founded My Hope Chest, a grassroots organization that helps the underprivileged or uninsured afford the roughly $13,500 needed for the three separate surgeries. Not surprisingly, My Hope Chest’s greatest challenge is funding, and its wait-list is 100 survivors long. “Our most recent client was missing her breast for 14 years until she found us,” says Savoretti. But, she explains, “survivors are just happy to have hope that there will be help one day.” Recently Savoretti partnered with the makers of the Genie Bra, which will donate 20 percent of proceeds from the sale of its pink bra to My Hope Chest.
Sue Friedman: Educates us about hereditary risks
Diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago, it was only after Sue Friedman started treatment that she learned she had the BRCA2 mutation, a gene that put her at greater risk for developing hereditary cancer. To educate others, Friedman founded the national nonprofit organization FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), one of the first groups to raise awareness about genetic testing.