As the saying goes, “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” So it comes as no surprise that female physicians and scientists across the globe are leading the charge against one of the biggest health crises facing women today—breast cancer.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women worldwide. Incidence rates are on the rise, while developing countries are experiencing higher mortality rates than ever before due to a lack of screening, access to treatment and research on at-risk populations. As cancer’s toll grows around the world, it is becoming as threatening to global health and development as infectious diseases. In fact, the WHO predicts that more people will die from cancer by 2030 than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
On International Women’s Day, The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is proud to support women devoted to helping women and committed to tackling a disease that knows no geographical borders. Nearly half of the 210 researchers we support are female, each driving change in critical areas of breast cancer research. Investing in women’s health yields big rewards —as mortality rates drop and health outcomes improve, educational and employment opportunities increase, and economies and societies grow stronger and more stable.
We believe that every woman deserves the right to lifesaving health care, and today we recognize three BCRF-funded physicians making an impact on millions of women worldwide:
Dr. Sofia Merajver (University of Michigan) is working across Africa to understand why aggressive forms of breast cancer strike certain populations. Inflammatory breast cancer—a rare, rapidly progressive type that comprises only three percent of breast cancer cases in the U.S.—makes up more than 10 percent of all cases in northern and sub-Saharan Africa. While her research focuses on greater understanding of the underpinnings of this type of breast cancer and how to avert it, Dr. Merajver partners with local doctors in Egypt, Ghana and Morocco to investigate factors that may put women at greater risk, such as environment or number of children. She is also developing ways to increase awareness and improve access to treatment. In many of these countries, poor roads, limited resources and a lack of trained oncologists are keeping women not only from getting quality care but also checked regularly. In Egypt, she and her team have decreased cases of late-stage breast cancer by more than 50 percent, simply by heightening awareness and providing physical exams.
Dr. Ephrat Levy-Lehad (Shaare Zedek Medical Center) established one of the world’s first cancer genetics center in her homeland of Israel. She was driven by the fact that Jewish women of Ashkenazi background have an unusually high risk of breast cancer. Ashkenazi Jews, who make up about half the women in Israel, are more likely to carry the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2. Israel has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world, leading Dr. Levy-Lehad to advocate for a free nationalscreening program that would help more than a million women learn their risk and understand their choices. In the Middle East, she is charting new scientific territory with her research on the genetic makeup and risks of the region’s underserved Arab-Israeli and Palestinian women, and her team’s work at Bethlehem University is a model of international collaboration.
Dr. Hedvig Hricak has created an international breast-imaging program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that trains radiologists from Asia, Europe and Latin America to improve diagnosis and reduce recurrence. Although many countries lack access to the newest technology, education and training have proven to be the true cornerstones of good medical practice. Dr. Hricak started the program in her native Croatia, but it quickly expanded beyond Eastern Europe to include radiologists from India to China to Uruguay, because of high demand. Many of the participating radiologists have since founded in-country programs to educate their teams at home. By decreasing mortality and increasing survival, screening benefits women and their families while also positively impacting social and economic development.
Breast cancer is a global challenge, but history has proven that medicine advances faster when we work together. No one wants to see the WHO’s prediction become a reality. This weekend during International Women’s Day, we stand with the women who are personally affected by this disease and the women who will bring an end to it once and for all.
Myra Biblowit is the President & CEO of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation.