Into the Gap: Breast Cancer Research Foundation Tackles Metastatic Breast Cancer

Last week, the MBC Alliance caused a stir when it reported on the blind spot that is funding for metastatic breast cancer. Though between 20 and 30 percent of women who get breast cancer get a recurrent, metastatic form of the disease, only 7.1 percent of breast cancer dollars address metastatic breast cancer.

So it’s a good thing, then, that two days prior to that report, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation announced a big give: $58.6 million, $11.6 million of which will go directly toward metastatic breast cancer research.

The money is going to support the Evelyn H. Lauder Founder’s Fund project, a BCRF-created initiative seeded with a $5 million gift last year. It’s encouraging that, though the project is only in its second year, it’s getting more than double the investment from BCRF.

The inspiration for the project, Evelyn Lauder, was BCRF’s founder herself. She passed away from ovarian cancer in 2011, and, in the rush of tribute donations BCRF received after her passing, it decided to do something impactful with the in-memoriam gifts.

There’s no denying it’s a good start, but will it be enough? The MBC Alliance’s report, "Changing the Landscape for People Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer," found that only $1 billion of $15 billion spent on breast cancer since 2000 covered metastatic breast cancer. Awareness is low. Patient participation in clinical trials is dogged by “barriers.” In short, people just don’t seem to care about metastatic breast cancer the way they care about regular, and much more treatable, breast cancer.

Indeed, in a lot of ways, breast cancer research seems to have chosen the path of least resistance. At first, it was a matter of getting over public squeamishness. In the 1980s, newscasters wouldn’t even say the words “breast cancer,” resulting in low public awareness. The issue required nearly as much PR as research. As for dropping the breast cancer death rates since 34 percent by 1990—that was mainly by targeting localized, non-invasive forms of the cancer.

Still, the BCRF clearly understands the metastatic shortfall, and that’s encouraging. It's chosen to do something about it. And its Founder’s Fund, still in its infancy, could end up being a major player in the MBC realm in years to come.