October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which each year calls attention to the condition that one in every eight women will face throughout their lifetimes. While the challenge of breast cancer remains, America’s biopharmaceutical companies have made substantial progress in recent decades toward finding effective treatments for the disease, providing hope for continued success in discovering new solutions.
According to the American Cancer Society, the impact of breast cancer is staggering. The group estimates that during 2018 alone, 266,120 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed, making breast cancer the second most common form of cancer affecting women, behind only skin cancer. Additionally, it is predicted that 40,920 women will die from the disease, which translates to 112 deaths every day.
For patients like Jessica Baker, those numbers are personal. After her diagnosis of an aggressive form of Stage II Breast Cancer, she threw everything she had into the fight against the disease, motivated by her son and the thousands of other women fighting for another birthday, Christmas or summer vacation. Jessica, who also happens to be a biopharmaceutical researcher, knew the stakes were high, but that there was reason for hope. Six years later, that hope is even stronger, because of the progress we’ve made in our ability to better diagnose and treat breast cancer.
Since peaking in the 1990s, cancer death rates have declined 26 percent, leading to more than 2.3 million cancer deaths avoided. Accordingly, rates of cancer survivorship continue to rise. The number of cancer survivors living in the United States has increased from three million in 1971 to 15.5 million as of January 1, 2016.
Approximately 73 percent of survival gains in cancer are attributable to new medicines.
These gains are predicted to continue, and right now there are more than 1,100 potential new medicines in development for the treatment of cancer, including more than 100 for breast cancer specifically. Advances in science have expanded our knowledge of how cancer develops and how to target medicines for specific cancer types, which has resulted in new, more effective therapies for patients. In fact, an average of 85 percent of medicines in the oncology pipeline are likely to be first-in-class medicines, meaning they use a new and unique mechanism for treating a disease.
Today, Jessica keeps a photo of her tumor at her desk to remind her that the fight isn’t over. She sports pink hair, but to her pink is more than a color; it’s a symbol of her ongoing battle to beat breast cancer and pursue new advancements in the field of medicine. Encouraged by the progress she has seen so far, every day she joins thousands of other researchers, each working to bring new discoveries to life and make sure that breast cancer patients all over the world also have the opportunity to keep pursuing their futures.