The success of breast cancer awareness campaigns over the last thirty years constitutes one of the greatest women’s health achievements in recent history. While October can particularly feel abundant in opportunities to support breast cancer research, more people than ever before “think pink” all year long, and breast cancer researchers have made great strides in understanding the disease, thanks in no small part to the funding we receive from groups like Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Fashion Footwear of New York, Glimmer of Hope and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Breast cancer has, in fact, become such a recognizable part of our everyday health language that it is easy to forget it’s a disease with a wide variety of subtypes, and while we know more about it than at any time in our history, there is still a lot we don’t understand.
Each year in December, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Magee-Womens Research Institute, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and UPMC CancerCenter have the opportunity to leave the gray sky and damp air of Pittsburgh and head to Texas for the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. While the warmth and sunshine are enticing, it’s really the opportunity to learn about the most important advances in our field that carry us away from our families and friends during this busy time of year.
This week, presentations from our own experts represent the depth and breadth of scientific and clinical research here in Pittsburgh. From advances in breast cancer imaging to developments in radiation treatment best practices – from discussions on hormone therapies for premenopausal breast cancer to the identification of a new gene found in metastatic breast cancer, physician-scientists from Magee, UPMC and Pitt will have an impact on nearly every area of this year’s conference. One of our most exciting announcements, which will be made on Wednesday, comes from one of our post-doctoral students in Adrian Lee’s lab, and it is particularly gratifying to watch the next generation of breast cancer researchers begin to make a name for themselves.
It’s an exciting time in breast cancer research. Every day we understand more about the disease, but we still have so much to learn. Even with all of our progress in early detection and personalized treatment, we still lose over 40,000 women a year to advanced cases of breast cancer. And while treatment here and in other first world countries has evolved, women in poverty stricken countries struggle for access to even remedial treatment. Our fight against breast cancer hasn’t ended, but it has changed, and conferences like San Antonio give us the opportunity to acknowledge how far we’ve come while working toward the future – a future, we hope someday, without breast cancer.
Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., is the director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and UPMC CancerCenter and a nationally recognized breast cancer expert.