Personal Stories, Research, Global
By: Susan G. Komen
Dr. Ben Anderson, Seattle, WA – Researcher, Scientific Advisor
“Komen’s grant for $50,000 enabled us to hold a summit, bringing together experts from the United States and low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to discuss guidelines and principles for breast cancer care that could be implemented in countries around the globe.”
“The work is challenging, but we have and will continue to make incremental improvements. After all, you don’t get to the Olympics by it being your first race. You have to go step by step. It is real and it is achievable. How could I do anything else?”
In 1997, I was asked to join a group from the University of Washington on a trip to set up breast clinics in Ukraine. I had never been to Ukraine, and didn’t know much, but quickly realized that I had many misconceptions about what it truly meant to have “limited resources.” It became clear that, due to a lack of infrastructure, American and European guidelines for breast cancer screening and care fundamentally do not apply in the rest of the world. So, I asked, what do we do? How can a system be put together? The pursuit for answers to these questions became what is now known as the Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI).
As our first funder in 2001, Susan G. Komen was absolutely critical in the development of this process. Komen’s grant for $50,000 enabled us to hold a summit, bringing together experts from the United States and low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to discuss guidelines and principles for breast cancer care that could be implemented in countries around the globe.
Over the next 10 years we worked to develop these guidelines. With terrible issues such as war and famine plaguing some of these countries, we realized the answer wasn’t providing clinics with expensive imaging machines or new molecular diagnostic labs. The key is education, and that’s not expensive. Greater knowledge of the disease would mean women getting lumps examined earlier, and health care providers recognizing breast cancer at an early stage, instead of once it has broken through the skin. We needed to organize the systems in these countries so that, once they are ready, they are able to actually address the problem.
As a member of the Komen Scholars, a group of distinguished leaders in breast cancer research and advocacy, Komen continued to play a critical role in our journey to improve breast cancer care around the globe. In 2010, I received the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Scholar grant. This $750,000 grant supported the creation of a training program specifically designed for use in LMICs and aimed at providing: 1) greater knowledge of breast cancer, 2) specialty-specific training in surgery, oncology and nursing, and 3) coordination of multidisciplinary care.
In August of 2010, we had the opportunity to visit West Africa and put the program into action. The BHGI and HopeXchange, in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), held a three-day training course for medical professionals and advocacy groups at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana. There were over 170 attendees from 18 institutions. Participants had the opportunity to attend hands-on training, which included surgical training for breast ultrasound and ultrasound-guided biopsy, as well as introductions to procedures we take for granted in the United States, including core needle biopsies, and most notably, the first-ever sentinel node biopsy procedure in Western Africa. Overjoyed by the success of this visit, we were eager to move forward, spreading the program to other countries.
In January of this year I had the privilege to present our work to the World Health Organization’s Guideline Review Committee, where they announced that they planned to use our structure as a point for developing international guidelines for breast cancer around the world, working to improve care and survival outcomes for patients everywhere.
Organizations like Komen are helping to bring together the people that want to, and have the ability to, fix this global problem. We can build the systems, and with Komen’s help, we can rally the public to join this fight as well. And with five million women projected to die of breast cancer in the next 10 years, it’s absolutely critical that we all focus on what’s at stake.
I have no doubt that, to some, this may seem like an impossible task. The work is challenging, but we have and will continue to make incremental improvements. After all, you don’t get to the Olympics by it being your first race. You have to go step by step. It is real and it is achievable. How could I do anything else?
*We would like to congratulate Dr. Anderson on his latest achievement. It was recently announced that Dr. Anderson will receive the National Consortium of Breast Centers’ Inspiration Award during the 2013 National Interdisciplinary Breast Conference, March 23-27, 2013. This award is given annually to the individual who embodies the spirit of selfless leadership and provides the inspiration for all other providers of breast health care. We look forward to Dr. Anderson’s continued leadership and research efforts in the fight against breast cancer!
Return to Blog Home