National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
April 6, 2010 • Volume 7 / Number 7

Guest Commentary by Ambassador Nancy Brinker

Collaborating Globally to Address Breast Cancer in Latin America

Ambassador Nancy Brinker Ambassador Nancy Brinker

It’s increasingly apparent that the most successful global health efforts require not just the best minds, but the best minds working collaboratively, to make a difference on the world stage. This approach is the driving force behind a unique NCI partnership funded in part by Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, to address breast cancer issues in Latin American countries.

As Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s founder and CEO, and in my capacity as a global Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control with the World Health Organization, I’ve seen firsthand the devastation that cancer creates around the world. As much progress as we’re making in the United States in education, screening, and access, the best of what we have to offer is still not reaching women who desperately need it, particularly in low-resource regions of the world, where the lion’s share of cancer cases are expected to develop over the next 20 years.

In an age where breast cancer information is available 24/7 on thousands of Web sites, I visited with a woman in India last year who was anxious to know whether her breast cancer was contagious.

We’ve talked with women in the deserts of Africa, dying in unimaginable pain without palliative care. We’ve addressed women in the Middle East who have lost everything—husbands, families, and security—because they were diagnosed with breast cancer. And we’ve seen firsthand the need in Latin America, where women are often diagnosed at advanced stages of the disease.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure has been funding or partnering with organizations globally for more than 15 of our 28 years, investing $40 million to date with nongovernmental organizations, research institutions, and governments to build breast cancer advocacy, research, and health programs in about 50 countries. In all that time, our focus has been on creating partnerships, sharing what we know, and empowering organizations and individuals to make a difference in their home countries.

Collaboration isn’t always easy, and I applaud NCI’s for successfully bringing together the varying interests of several organizations and six governments, including our own, to launch the Latin American initiative. Komen is investing $1 million into this partnership to support the development of programs for cancer research, clinical trials, training, technology, and capacity building.

The participating Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay—and the United States will link their research efforts through the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG), an information network that allows researchers to share data and knowledge. They will also develop pilot projects to enhance research and improve delivery of cancer treatments to patients in the United States and Latin America.

This is the first major multicountry research effort specifically aimed at women in Latin American countries. Over time, we hope to get answers about the roles that genetics, the environment, and social issues play in breast cancer incidence and mortality in Latin American women.

This work has important implications right here in the United States, where 14,000 cases of breast cancer were diagnosed and 2,200 deaths among U.S. Hispanic women occurred in 2009, making breast cancer the leading cause of cancer death among Latin American women in the United States. These numbers, unfortunately, are just part of more frightening global figures, with an estimated 7 million cancer deaths worldwide this year alone—more than 1.3 million due to breast cancer.

We’ve been fortunate in the United States that we’ve been able to transform the culture around breast cancer, and we’re eager to continue to apply what we’ve learned on a global scale. What we learn in these Latin American countries through this collaboration may very well give us the roadmap to successful treatment and social strategies for Latin American women, as well as for women worldwide.

Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker
Founder and CEO, Susan G. Komen for the Cure®