Breast cancer research nears $1B spent11 years, 10 months ago
Posted on Jan 26, 2007, 6 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
As breast cancer ravaged her body, Susan G. Komen asked her younger sister for a promise. Komen wanted help to "cure this disease." After a three-year struggle, the vivacious young mother with the bright smile died in 1980 at age 36. And her sister, Nancy Brinker, kept her promise to do something, founding the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation two years later. "I knew it had to be big. We had to change a culture," Brinker said.
As breast cancer ravaged her body, Susan G. Komen asked her younger sister for a promise. Komen wanted help to "cure this disease." After a three-year struggle, the vivacious young mother with the bright smile died in 1980 at age 36.
And her sister, Nancy Brinker, kept her promise to do something, founding the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation two years later.
"I knew it had to be big. We had to change a culture," Brinker said.
Indeed, the culture and much more have changed.
In the 25 years since, the foundation has grown from a small gathering of women in Brinker's living room to a world-renowned operation that will have invested roughly $1 billion in community outreach and research by year's end.
The Dallas-based organization has 200 employees, more than 100,000 active volunteers and 125 affiliates. Its annual Race for the Cure has grown from 800 women who ran for charity in Dallas to about 1.5 million participants in 120 races worldwide. The foundation has funded work in more than 47 countries.
The nonprofit is celebrating its 25th year with a new name — Susan G. Komen for the Cure, an edgy new advertising campaign that includes T-shirts reading: "If you're going to stare at my breasts, you could at least donate a dollar to save them," sales of pink promise rings and a pledge to raise another $1 billion in the next 10 years.
With the help of organizations like Komen and prominent figures like First Lady Betty Ford, who spoke openly of about her experience with breast cancer in the mid-1970s, the culture slowly began to change from breast cancer being a taboo subject, said Dr. Gabriel Hortobagyi, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
"I grew up at a time when most families didn't talk about either sex or cancer," said Hortobagyi, chairman of the department of breast medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. "Those were sort of taboos. It was sort of shameful if anyone in the family had cancer. And people didn't talk about breasts, either healthy or sick."
Today, the Komen Foundation reports: Nearly 75 percent of women over 40 get regular mammograms compared to fewer than a third who got breast exams in their doctor's offices in 1982; the five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught before it spreads is 98 percent compared to 74 percent back then; the federal government devotes more than $900 million each year to breast cancer research, treatment and prevention compared to $30 million in 1982.
"I truly believe if Nancy hadn't started this thing, that that would not be the case, it just needed that special focus," said Hala Moddelmog, president and chief executive officer of Komen.
The Komen organization says it is second only to the U.S. government as a source of funding for breast cancer research and community outreach programs, which include education, screening and treatment. It says about 84 cents of every dollar it raises is spent in those areas, totaling about $157 million this year.
"Every advance in breast cancer has been touched by a Komen grant," said Komen spokeswoman Emily Callahan.
This year the organization is refocusing its research money to concentrate on more focused areas, such as finding biological signs that can help predict cancer before symptoms appear.