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Advocates ask Congress to approve bill to stop breast cancer

Joanne Marquardt, a breast cancer survivor and research

Joanne Marquardt, a breast cancer survivor and research advocate, at the nonprofit organization West Islip Cancer Coalition on Jan. 22, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

To end breast cancer, advocates on Long Island and beyond are calling on the House of Representatives to approve legislation aimed at making the malignancy a bygone chapter in medical history.

The bill would establish a blue-ribbon commission composed of the nation’s top scientists, physicians, advocates and other stakeholders who would identify key strategies already under study that could eradicate breast cancer by the early 2020s.

“The bill outlines the basic structure for this commission and would use the nation’s existing investments in breast cancer research,” said Joanne Marquardt of the West Islip Breast Cancer Coalition, which supports the push to end breast cancer. She said the effort would not cost taxpayers anything.

Although the drive to erase breast cancer the way smallpox was wiped out in the 1970s may seem like a tall order, it has been percolating since 2010 under the title, Breast Cancer Deadline 2020. The initiative by the National Breast Cancer Coalition in Washington, D.C., was launched six years before President Barack Obama broached his “moonshot effort” to end all forms of cancer.

Principals behind Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 say their multipronged initiative — and the federal measure based on it — are designed not only to shine a spotlight on the disease but to fast-track approaches that stop the cancer before it starts.

Breast cancer isn’t a single disease, doctors say, but different types of malignancies with a variety of causes emerging in that tissue.

“We’re not saying that we want to end breast cancer on January 1, 2020,” said Fran Visco, president of the national coalition. “We’re saying we want to have all the tools available by that date.”

Visco said it’s time doctors and scientists began rethinking their approaches to breast cancer because a woman dies of the disease every 15 minutes and within that same time frame another six are diagnosed. All told, the disease kills 40,000 women annually and about 400 men.

Since the bill’s introduction last year, 120,000 women have died of breast cancer, Visco said Thursday.

The disease remains a serious threat to health on Long Island where the local incidence exceeds the national rate, experts say.

The bill, HR-1197, which has 272 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House, pays special attention to metastatic breast cancer and would require concerted efforts to identify strategies to prevent this form of the disease. Metastatic breast cancer — disease that spreads to distant sites in the body — is responsible for more than 90 percent of the deaths, said Marquardt, a breast cancer survivor.

She and Visco are concerned because the bill, which has a name that differs from the initiative — Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act — has been languishing for months in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Why it’s just sitting there, I don’t know,” said Marquardt, who praised all of New York’s representatives from both sides of the aisle, who are co-sponsors of the bill.

Visco takes a dimmer view and wonders whether women’s health issues simply garner less interest than other legislation moving through Congress.

“This is not a controversial bill. This not a bill that will cost taxpayers anything because it is targeting existing research,” Visco said.

“We are doing everything we can possibly do to make sure this bill passes this year,” said Visco, also a breast cancer survivor.


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