New “smart” medicines for breast cancer

The word hope can inspire a range of feelings. But to someone facing cancer, as I have, hope is a lifeline to a better tomorrow, a breakthrough treatment, a cure. As we observe breast cancer awareness month this October, let hope also mean that one day, no woman will have to face this terrible disease with a poor prognosis for recovery.

In the African American community, the hope to win the fight against breast cancer is particularly profound. Our community is disproportionately affected by a variety of cancers, including breast cancer. African American women are 28 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than white women, according to the American Cancer Society.

There are a variety of complex factors that contribute to this health disparity. One is that African American women are more likely to be diagnosed later with more advanced cancer – which is much more difficult to treat, according to the American Cancer Society. That’s why it’s so critical that women be vigilant about doing monthly self-examinations and getting regular mammograms as directed by their physicians. These steps help detect any irregularities earlier and can make a life or death difference.

More than ever before, medicines also have the power to provide hope to cancer patients. Until recently, killing cancer cells without harming healthy cells in the body has proven to be extraordinarily difficult. But that’s changing. Right now, researchers from America’s pharmaceutical companies are creating new \”smart\” medicines that ignore healthy cells and go straight to the cancer. In addition, companies are working on medicines to improve the quality of life for people undergoing cancer treatment. In fact, a new survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) revealed 229 new medicines in development for cancers that disproportionately impact African Americans, including 88 for breast cancer.

But, just knowing about the treatments available to you isn’t enough. If you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s very important to follow through with the treatments prescribed by your doctor. Columbia University Medical Center researchers found that African American women with early stage breast cancer are less likely to finish chemotherapy treatment, contributing to lower survivor rates.

There are likely a variety of factors for why patients might not take their medicines as prescribed; cost may be one of them. For those who need help affording their pre scri ption medicines, there are programs that can help. The Partnership for Pre scri ption Assistance (1-888-4PPA-NOW or, a national program sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies, provides a single point of access to 475 patient assistance programs. More than 2,500 brand-name and generic pre scri ption medicines are available through the participating programs. So far, the program has already helped more than 4.3 million people in need nationwide.

One of our community’s greatest leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, \”We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.\” This month, as we remember those who have won and lost the battle against breast cancer, may we also preserve that infinite hope for a new treatment that helps save a life, ushering in a cure to cancer forever.

Larry Lucas is the vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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