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Pathways to Discovery: Summer 2011

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Breast Cancer Survivorship Conference Connects Patients, Community, and Science

Unless we learn to treat breast cancer differently, we’re going to keep getting the same results.
Blase N. Polite, MD, MPH

Cancer survivorship has nearly quadrupled over the past 40 years to about 12 million people, according to the latest government statistics. Breast cancer survivors make up the largest proportion of that—at 22%.

A 1-day conference was held in April to give breast cancer survivors and their caregivers the opportunity to discuss complex and emotional issues involving treatment options and resources. The conference, “Surviving Breast Cancer Together: Connecting Survivors, Community, and Science,” was at Kennedy-King College and was hosted by the UCCCC Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Disparities and The University of Chicago Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Breast Cancer, as well as other UChicago groups and the University of Illinois at Chicago. More than 130 people attended the free event.

In her opening remarks, UCCCC Director Michelle Le Beau, PhD, Arthur and Marian Edelstein Professor of Medicine, said the goal of the conference was to facilitate a dialogue among everyone involved in breast cancer care.

The audience heard unique perspectives from a lawyer, a survivor, researchers, clinicians, a lifestyle and fitness expert, and genetic counselors.

According to the Sinai Urban Health Institute, black women in Chicago are 62% more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, and many of the conference speakers discussed factors behind this staggering statistic. Researchers are looking into links between breast cancer, obesity, and other diseases. They are also studying tumor biology specific to black women, as well as cultural and economic factors such as delays in care, inferior treatment compliance, limited access to quality care, and a lack of insurance coverage.

Blase N. Polite, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine, presented information about the challenges that exist between black breast cancer patients and available clinical trials. He stressed the importance of clinical trials to transform healthcare, saying, “Unless we learn to treat breast cancer differently, we’re going to keep getting the same results.”

Surviving Breast Cancer
Susan Hong, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine and director of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, led a breakout session for healthcare professionals to show them how they can provide cancer patients with survivorship care plans. These plans contain treatment summaries, recommendations for follow-up care, and a schedule of surveillance testing.

“I think one of the greatest challenges is helping patients discover what their ‘new normal’ is,” Dr. Hong said. “Many survivors believe once their cancer treatment is completed, they should be right back to their pretreatment baseline. While some survivors do recover fairly quickly, others find that their bodies have undergone significant changes. ”

Olufunmilayo Olopade, MBBS, Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine & Human Genetics, addressed emerging trends in breast cancer, encouraging survivors to take a proactive stance on their breast health and not to be afraid of surgery and reconstruction.

She also emphasized that breast cancer is not one disease, meaning a personalized approach for each patient is necessary for the best outcome.

More than 130 people attended the free event.