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World Cancer Day 2017: The Global Reach of Breast Cancer

By BCRF | February 3, 2017

How BCRF is working around the world to end the suffering from breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in woman worldwide and is the leading cause of cancer related deaths in developing countries, with nearly 1.7 million new cases diagnosed in 2012 ( according to the latest date for available data) [1]. Global cancer rates in general are expected to rise from 14 million in 2012 to 20 million over the next two decades[2], making cancer a significant global health emergency.

In recognition of World Cancer Day, BCRF salutes its more than 250 investigators around the globe working tirelessly to make advances against this disease, while acknowledging the multitude of challenges that remain in reducing the incidence of and deaths due to breast cancer.

Advancements in breast cancer screening and treatment have contributed to a 38 percent decline in breast cancer deaths in the U.S. from 1989 to 2014, translating to 279,300 fewer breast cancer deaths[3]. In spite of this promising trend, breast cancer incidence has remained steady and an estimated 255,180 new cases of invasive breast cancer are predicted to occur in the U.S. this year. 

Our Global Commitment

BCRF’s mission to end breast cancer spans six continents and 14 countries, where our investments support research in prevention, screening and early detection, inherited susceptibility and developing new treatments. Major international BCRF initiatives include Evelyn Lauder Founder’s Fund study in metastatic breast cancer in Europe and the U.S. and the International Male Breast Cancer Study led by BCRF investigators, Drs. Fatima Cardoso and Sharon Giordano across North America and Europe.

Geographic Barriers to Care

When we think about the burden of cancer globally, we often think of the disparities that occur in low resource settings, such as parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia.  Disparities in access to screening and lifesaving treatment lead to late diagnosis and early death. A variety of factors are at play including geographic barriers that make it difficult to get care, lack of medical infrastructure and trained professionals to provide quality care, as well as lack of awareness or insufficient understanding of the biology of breast cancer across populations.

In fact, if we were able to offer the same level of care that is already available in the U.S. and Western Europe to those in low resource settings, we could effectively eliminate much of these disparities, and the favorable trends in breast cancer mortality seen in the U.S. could eventually be realized around the world. 

BCRF’s International Impact: Improving Screening, Early Detection and Treatment

Towards this goal, BCRF is supporting projects in rural Rwanda and Nigeria that are building vital infrastructure, providing training to local physicians and clinical workers, and the first large-scale comparative analysis of the genomic landscape of breast cancer in African women. This research in healthcare delivery practices have already improved screening rates, accuracy of diagnosis and quality care, as well as advanced our understanding of the genetic factors driving the high rate of aggressive cancers seen in women of African descent. Read more about the research of BCRF investigators, Drs. Larry Shulman and Funmi Olopade.

Understanding risk, including genetic risk, is the foundation of public health programs, but these risk factors are not well studied in non-white populations. Work by Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel has led to new insights about BRCA mutations among Latina women, particularly those from Mexico, Colombia and the U.S., while helping to create a research infrastructure of genetic counseling for cancer risk assessment.

For others, getting the right treatment at the right dose at the right time not only improves survival but can reduce unnecessary side effects of chemotherapy. BCRF is the sole funder of a clinical trial led by Dr. Eduardo Cazap and his international colleagues that aims to raise the standard of care in Argentina, Brazil and throughout South America, decreasing the cost of care and side effects by reducing the duration of chemotherapy.

Early detection and appropriate diagnosis is critical to achieving a favorable breast cancer outcome, and mammography is currently the standard of care in breast screening. Since 2004, BCRF has supported efforts by Dr. Hedvig Hricak and her colleagues in training future global leaders in breast imaging and to develop partnerships with international imaging communities to improve breast imaging, patient care and patient outcomes around the world. The training and research program has supported trainees from Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, India, Serbia, South Korea and Uruguay.

BCRF’s other international studies include studies to understand the inherited predisposition to breast cancer among underserved women in Palestine and Israel and elucidating the patterns of breast cancer among different ethnic groups in the Middle East. Read more about the research of Drs. Levy-Lahad and Gad Rennert.

BCRF continues to foster collaboration across the globe through its support of international clinical research consortia, such as the Breast International Group, European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer, and Australia and New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group.

Breast cancer knows no boundaries. BCRF remains stalwart in its commitment to supporting the efforts of scientists worldwide to bring an end to this disease.




[2] International Agency for Cancer Research. World Cancer Report 2014

[3] American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2017