Opinion: Why I believe a 100 percent breast cancer survival rate is within our reach

A Breast Cancer Alliance flag waves in the wind at the BCA flag-raising at Town Hall in Greenwich last year.

A Breast Cancer Alliance flag waves in the wind at the BCA flag-raising at Town Hall in Greenwich last year.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

I am proud to have served as the executive director of Breast Cancer Alliance for the past 10 years.

Headquartered in Greenwich, BCA is one of the most prominent and highly ranked national breast cancer charities, dedicated to improving survival rates and quality of life for those impacted by the disease by investing in early-stage innovative research, breast surgery fellowships, regional education and breast cancer-related health care services for the underserved.

Breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer affecting women of all ethnicities in the United States. Fortunately, there have been astounding strides in breast cancer survival rates since BCA’s founding 25 years ago, with survival rates now near 90 percent when the cancer is caught in its earliest stages. We applaud the medical and scientific communities for these life-saving advances.

Despite the tremendous progress that has been made, our mission continues with a renewed sense of urgency, especially on the heels of, and setbacks from, the COVID-19 pandemic.

BCA has set a stake in the ground, aiming for a 100 percent breast cancer survival rate by the close of this decade. It is an ambitious goal but one we believe can be achieved. Increased support for, and focus on, the needs of underserved communities is essential to achieving that goal.

Minority groups, specifically Black women, are more likely to die of the disease than their white counterparts. They are at significantly higher risk of certain genetic mutations and/or suffer from delayed screening due to lack of access to essential health care, allowing the disease’s fatality to proliferate.

Recognizing that inequities exist among breast cancer patients, many New England states have taken steps towards closing the gap. Connecticut now has the third smallest gap in breast cancer mortality between Black and white women in the United States. As BCA continues to grow, its commitment to providing access to free education and to helping remove financial barriers of access to breast health care for underserved populations with its grant funding is unwavering.

Statistics show that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, and less than one in 1,000 men, and 30 percent of patients diagnosed are living with metastatic disease. BCA will not rest until these odds are greatly improved.

Yonni Wattenmaker is executive director of the Breast Cancer Alliance.