For over 20 years, the 4th day in February has been recognised as World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), an organisation dedicated to reducing the global cancer burden. They believe that access to life-saving cancer diagnosis, treatment and care should be accessible for all, and that investment and innovation are key to accelerated progress. The Breast International Group (BIG) is a philanthropic network of academic research groups that are dedicated to finding better treatments for breast cancer. Yesterday was a BIG day as the group honoured more than 6 million women living with breast cancer.
BIG was established in 1996 by two oncologists, Aron Goldhirsch from Switzerland and Martine Piccart from Belgium (seen below left). Goldhirsch, who died a year ago, was best known for his promotion of personalised adjuvant therapies for individual patients. Piccart, who is co-author of more than 500 peer-reviewed journal articles, has made seminal contributions to our understanding of the origins of metastatic breast cancer and how it evolves. Through the establishment of BIG, Piccart and Goldhirsch have made a lasting contribution, on a global scale, to a disease that affects one in 8 women.
BIG has three key goals: understanding the genetic mechanisms of breast cancer; identifying how to stop and cure the disease; and offering the best possible treatments to each individual patient. Clinical trials conducted under the BIG umbrella have the potential to change the lives of breast cancer patients by avoiding unnecessary chemotherapy, providing new treatment combinations, and finding safe alternatives. The organisation firmly believes that research is the only way to understand and ultimately to stop the disease.
Piccart commented: “With the incredibly powerful and fascinating technologies under development today, there is a real risk to get ‘lost in translation.’ I believe we need to put ourselves in our patients’ shoes and focus on issues that matter to them, such as identifying factors that could be linked to an excellent clinical outcome without treatment escalation. We now understand that breast cancer is not one single disease, but many different subtypes, and each patient requires a unique treatment approach.
The theme for World Cancer Day in 2021 is “I am and I will,” suggesting that each of us has the opportunity – and even the obligation – to reduce the impact of cancer on those we love and for the world. Perhaps now is the time for all of us to act and make a meaningful difference!