By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director

Over the years, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said: “We don’t have nearly enough to show for the billions of dollars raised in the name of breast cancer.” In 2018, it’s estimated that 268,670 people will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. On top of that, it’s estimated that more than 154,794 people are currently in treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

When Breast Cancer Action was founded, around 45,000 people died annually from breast cancer. Today, that number is still over 41,000!

Behind each of these numbers is a person.

We desperately need more effective treatments so that fewer people die from breast cancer. And we need less toxic, more affordable treatments so that fewer people are left with devastating physical, financial, sexual, and psychological scars from the disease.

Once notoriously slow with drug approvals, the FDA now approves new treatments faster than any other developed country. Yet, in a case of the tail wagging the dog, they seem to be focused on the number of new cancer treatments approved, rather than on the quality and efficacy of these treatments.

I’ve written about this previously and we’ve hosted webinars about the FDA’s decision to approve cancer drugs that have not been shown to help people live longer or to reduce side effects. That’s why we won’t stop calling for the highest standards when it comes to drug approvals, to make sure that companies are delivering safe and effective treatments, not just hope and hype. Plus, high standards are the best way to incentivize true innovation and breakthrough research.

But here’s the other side of the coin when it comes to new treatments: it doesn’t matter how effective they are, if people can’t afford them.

That’s why we support universal healthcare. When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, I wrote about the fact that it’s an important step in the right direction. But our work isn’t done until everyone has access to healthcare that is compassionate, culturally competent, evidence-based and supportive of patient decision-making. In addition, we need adequate resources devoted to prevention. 

Over the past two years, most of our work has been focused on defending the ACA and working to ensure important protections for anyone living with a pre-existing condition like breast cancer. Thankfully, the midterm elections brought a couple of important wins: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voted to expand Medicaid. And the new Democratic majority in the House of Representative helps protect the ACA from further erosion and attack. But again, while this is another important step in the right direction, our work doesn’t stop here.

Our work to ensure that everyone who needs it has access to high-quality, affordable healthcare is essential because:

Access to healthcare is absolutely necessary—even though in itself not entirely sufficient—to eliminate health inequities.

We know that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to breast cancer screening and treatment. And we value the role of evidence-based, patient-centered information that allows each person to make important healthcare decisions that are right for them. This doesn’t mean that everyone’s choices need to be the same, or even that everyone should be choosing the maximum amount of treatment.

But the inability to pay for treatments and healthcare should never be what drives treatment decisions.

Looking ahead, our work will continue to focus on ensuring that new breast cancer treatments are safe and effective, as well as ensuring universal access to affordable, high quality healthcare. Because healthcare is a human right.

Thank you for joining our work for health justice for everyone living with and at risk of breast cancer.