Is Breast Cancer on the Rise and Why?

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

A time to remember the women and men we have lost, honor and encourage survivors and celebrate the strides made in increasing breast cancer survival rates. As Myra Biblowit, President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF), confides, “Any woman who has ever experienced the panic a breast cancer diagnosis can cause knows there is still important work to be done, especially in the current environment.”

“If I had just one message for women everywhere, I would say, ‘don’t neglect your annual screening’,” advises Biblowit. BCRF research emphasizes its importance. Last year, at the outset of the COVID pandemic, preventative care such as mammograms was cancelled or postponed due to pressures in medical facilities. The view was that delays were safe for a few months. But for many, it’s been much more than a few months. Breast cancer diagnoses have declined significantly, and undiagnosed or delayed diagnoses can have serious consequences. “It’s important for women to get back to their annual screening or protocol advised by their physician,” Biblowit reiterates.

The challenges during COVID have made BCRF’s work even more pressing. They are committed to providing tools and resources to women, to inform them as cancer patients during the pandemic, and to maintain their commitment to continue funding ground-breaking research. Research—and research alone—has the power to bring an end to cancer. “Research is the reason there are more than 3.8 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.” And even so, Biblowit reminds us that “an estimated 44,000 lives will be lost to the disease this year.”

In the face of COVID, the Foundation quickly pivoted to virtual events to raise critical funds for research. In addition, BCRF focused on guiding patients in how to navigate breast cancer care during the pandemic, how cancer research helped scientists test and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines in record time, and how people can use research-backed prevention tips to reduce their breast cancer risk. BCRF-supported researchers continued their lifesaving work as well and, in the last year, released groundbreaking reports like the RxPONDER study and the CARRIERS study, both of which will directly improve patient care.

“We are on the cusp of major, game-changing leaps forward” Biblowit asserts, “but the pandemic’s impact on research funding is undeniable. While the world contends with a global health crisis, our loved ones continue to lose their health and lives due to delays in breast cancer screening and care. And yet, as the need for greater vigilance becomes even more acute, funding for cancer research is in a worrying decline,” she explains. “Our Founding Scientific Director Dr. Larry Norton from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center tells us that it could easily cost us the better part of a decade to recover from even a single year’s drop in cancer research funding. And this would result in lost lives—lives that could have been saved by uninterrupted progress,” Biblowit said. “Breakthroughs we’re backing today will shape the future standard of care; only research we fund now will be there for us tomorrow.”

photo: Rob Rich

BCRF is the highest-rated breast cancer organization in the United States and the largest private funder of breast cancer research worldwide. It was established due to the vision of the late Evelyn H. Lauder, businesswoman and philanthropist, who was married to Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman Emeritus of the Estée Lauder Companies. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) embodies the power of possibility. Lauder—who died in 2011–was determined to make women’s health a global priority. Years before, she had begun raising money for the cause. In 1989, as a member of the Board of Overseers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, she spearheaded a fund drive that raised more than $18 million, providing the funds to initiate and equip her namesake center. Today the center serves as a worldwide model for offering coordinating supportive services under one roof for one disease.

“I wanted to have the mall of medicine,” Lauder told Womens Wear Daily as the center was opening in October 2009. “I wanted everything under one roof. I was on the board at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and at the time, the doctor who was in charge of the hospital said they were building a breast center. And I said, ‘Oh, this is fabulous. What are you going to have in the breast center?’ So he said, ‘We’re going to have oncology and we’re going to have mammography. I said, ‘Is that it?’ He says, ‘Well, what else do you want?’ And I said, ‘Well, I would want physical therapy, psychological counseling, an education center so that we could pick up information in either leaflets or online, nutritional counseling, a pharmacy so you don’t have to go running around the city to get everything, a boutique that might sell all the needs of a woman while she’s waiting for reconstruction to get the right bra and do whatever is necessary — bathing suits, you know?” The 150,000-square-foot facility is a brick-and-mortar testament to her vision.

With the help of Alexandra Penney, then Editor-in-Chief of Self magazine, Lauder co-created the pink ribbon and transformed it into a worldwide symbol of hope for millions of people. A year later, in 1993, Evelyn established BCRF based on the belief that only deep investments in research would bring an end to breast cancer. In the nearly three decades since she started the organization, deaths from breast cancer have declined by 40 percent—unequivocal evidence that research is the key to stopping the disease in its tracks. After funding just eight researchers in its first year, BCRF now supports 250 leading scientists across 14 countries. “She was not just a philanthropist,” Norton said, “she was a guiding spirit.”

Myra Biblowit and Evelyn Lauder photo: Julie Skarratt

Myra Biblowit, took the helm of BCRF in 2001 and with Mrs. Lauder’s support, transformed the New York-based grant organization into a global brain trust supporting a robust portfolio of breast cancer research all over the world. Today, they invest in and nurture the best minds in science—from those investigating prevention as well battling metastasis—and fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration. BCRF has made some of the most important breakthroughs in breast cancer research possible. Biblowit has dedicated the last two decades to this cause because “I believe—passionately—that BCRF will consign breast cancer to the history books.”

Led by an all-women leadership team and a board of directors comprised of trailblazers in media, business, philanthropy, and more, BCRF continues to champion the essential—and growing—need for breast cancer research even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. From providing the latest breast cancer research news to sharing stories of those impacted by the disease, BCRF is committed to ending breast cancer. Behind every person diagnosed with breast cancer, there are family and friends; physicians and scientists. Research is the reason they have a story to tell.

“I am proud to carry on Evelyn Lauders’ legacy. We have all of the key components to change the world, and if I can help our scientists usher in a brighter future, well, it is truly an honor–this is not a job—it is my life’s work,” said Biblowit.

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