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Breast cancer patients need research, and research needs patients

October 9, 2009 |  3:41 pm

Drugs Funding for breast cancer research -- or the vaguely defined "breast cancer awareness" -- is only one step in the search for new treatments. Clinical trials are crucial.

And they seem to be short of participants, despite the number of women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer each year -- about 192,370, according to American Cancer Society statistics. Another 62,280 will be diagnosed with the non-invasive form known as carcinoma in situ.

As Shari Roan wrote recently:

A year ago, U.S. researchers launched what they deemed a high-priority study to determine if women with an often-fatal type of breast cancer could live longer by taking a specific combination of drugs. If the study found that to be true, the average rate of survival – four years – could be significantly extended.

A worthy question to address? It would seem so. But the answer may be a long time coming.

The U.S. arm of the international trial got underway nine months behind those in other countries. And researchers now expect to enroll only 350 U.S. patients of the original 3,500 sought.

Before drugs and therapies to save lives or reduce suffering can reach the market, they must be tested to ensure they’re safe and effective. But the reluctance of Americans to participate in clinical trials has been a serious drag on medical research."

So where should breast cancer patients start? BreastCancerTrials.org is one place. So is ClinicalTrials.gov and TrialCheck from the Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups. They offer long lists of solid, potential-filled research efforts.

For those fortunate enough to be unable to participate in a clinical trial, buy pink if you want. But keep in mind that only a fraction, often a hard-to-pin-down fraction, of your money goes to organizations funding research. As an earlier Times story points out: "The pink marketing strategy brings in a lot of money for nonprofits, but no one keeps track of it as a whole."

The purchase of a pink product is not actually required in order to support breast cancer research, of course. Some organizations, it's been said, will accept donations directly. They might even accept them in months other than October.

Here are guidelines from Health.com that explain how to donate wisely: "Picking a breast cancer charity to donate to can mean sifting through hundreds of options. You can narrow your search by deciding where you want your money to go -- whether it’s education, outreach, awareness, or treatment. Here, we look at a range of charities -- from large to small, national to local -- that focus on funding research, the crucial component of the search for a cure for breast cancer."

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Los Angeles Times

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