Research: The key to a cure for breast cancer

A volunteer for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada ruefully commented "The only way you can be sure you won’t get breast cancer is to die from something else!"

North Americans have the highest rate of breast cancer in the world. Nearly 19,000 Canadians, including almost 200 men, are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Women 50 to 69 years of age have the highest rate of incidence. Unfortunately, almost a third of those afflicted may die. Strangely, although women represent 52 per cent of the population, only five per cent of medical research funding is aimed at women’s health issues, according to the Society.

This October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Lawrence Greenaway is working desperately hard to change that scenario. Retired from Canada Post, he works daily, without pay, as President and Chief Executive Officer of the society he founded after his daughter, Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier, died battling the disease.

Shocked at the apparent lack of knowledge about breast cancer — and the lack of research money available to find answers — Greenaway began by acting locally, in Sarnia, to find research money. Now in seven provinces, the ciety he founded raises funds to improve the detection, prevention and treatment of breast cancer, with the ultimate aim of finding a cure.

Early detection saves lives
The rate of survival five years after diagnosis of cancer jumps from 74 per cent to 90 when the disease is discovered at a very early stage. The Breast Cancer Society of Canada funds research — mostly in London, Ont. — into new, effective and non-surgical methods of detection: blood testing for tumor markers, and clearer mammographic imaging through computer enhancement, doppler ultrasound and Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanning methods.

Committed to finding answers
How aggressive is a particular tumor likely to be? The society funds research into this question, as well as studies that assess whether tumors detected only through mammography differ significantly from those detected clinically. Other unanswered questions involve the link between cancer and the environment, and the role some foods or genetic factors may have in causing the disease.

Humane and effective chemotherapy, radiation treatment procedures, and better hormone therapy methods sought by the society’s funding, reflect concern for the quality of life of those diagnosed with cancer.

Hope for a cure
The suffering caused by this dreaded disease may one day be prevented by immunization techniques developed through research funded by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada. The organization also hopes a cure may eventually be found through molecular research into a genetic and/or growth factor blocker.

Protecting yourself
Being female is the biggest risk factor for breast cancer; increasing age is the second highest risk factor. Self-awareness is your best protection against this disease. Check your breasts regularly and consult your physician about any changes. Have an annual check-up, including a breast examination. No woman is immune to the risk of breast cancer — share your knowledge with other women.

For more information, contact the Breast Cancer Society of Canada, call 1-800-567-8767.