Breast Cancer: 10 Years of Progress
10 Years of Research
She'd felt it. She'd urged doctors to treat it. But it wasn't until she was told that that the 7-centimeter mass inside her left breast was cancerous that Janice Fine felt she was about to face something truly ominous. Hearing the word "cancer" sent her reeling. "Having lost my mother to cancer, and hearing that I had cancer, confirmed my deepest fears," she says today.
But Fine, 43, is now an official 10-year breast cancer survivor and the subject of a new documentary, One in Eight: Janice's Journey. The Bostonian has had no recurrence of the carcinoma for which she was treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy in the early months of 1994. And she is more than a single success statistic.
The last decade has seen improvements in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer -- and in the amount of money being spent on research. What's more, the breast cancer movement -- the grass-roots efforts by women to see that the disease commands the attention of policy-makers, drug companies, and physicians -- has burgeoned since Breast Cancer Awareness Month was born 20 years ago. The Internet has enabled women from far-flung locations to meet one another virtually and stay in touch, sharing critical information, advice, hope, and well wishes. At the same time, corporate America, from cosmetics chains like Sephora to Fortune 500 companies like 3M to smaller convenience store chains such as Wawa have contributed money, ideas, and products to help individual women and the breast cancer movement. Authors committed to breast cancer awareness have worked with publishers and TV stations to create huge events around the release of their books. And dozens of celebrities have gotten involved in projects as creative as breastcancer.org's Celebrity Talking Dictionary, which helps women learn to say and understand the complex medical terms they need to speak intelligently with their doctors.
"Twenty years ago people wouldn't even say the words 'breast cancer,'" says Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a leading advocacy organization. "While there is still more work we can do, we have come a very long way in the fight to bring awareness and early detection to top of mind."
According to Marisa Weiss, MD, president and founder of breastcancer.org, a nonprofit organization of medical experts that distributes free, up-to-the-minute information on breast cancer diagnosis and treatment over the Internet, "Women today are busier than they've ever been before. No one has time to get breast cancer. So what women are doing today that they were not able to do in the same ways five years ago is arm themselves with medical information, connect, support each other, and lobby to conquer this disease." The Internet is making such connections possible, says Weiss, who is also a breast radiation oncologist practicing in the Philadelphia area.
Weiss says that the amount of information on breast cancer has doubled in the past 10 years and will double again in the next five, making rapid, fluid communication among women and their doctors more critical than ever. "Gone are the days of Saturday conventions for women to gather and talk about breast cancer," says Weiss. "Women want a 24-7 medical resource, and they want to be able to speak to each other, virtually, any time of day and night."