CARIBOU, Maine — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins spoke during a Think Beyond Pink luncheon event here recently about efforts in Washington to heal, and ultimately end breast cancer by 2020.
The senator received a standing ovation before and after her hometown speech at the Caribou Inn & Convention Center, where she discussed new breakthroughs in cancer research, and the Senate’s effort to raise funding for the cause.
Before complimenting local efforts by Cary Medical and Pink Aroostook, a breast health program in northern Maine, Collins shared some uplifting statistics about the battle to end cancer.
“In 1980, the five-year survival rate of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer was about 75 percent,” Collins said. “Today, their survival rate is 99 percent, so this is no time for us to take our foot off the accelerator.”
She emphasized that regular screenings and early detection are the “most effective way to ensure successful treatment and survival.”
Collins, a longtime supporter of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national breast cancer early detection program, explained why she feels their efforts to help low-income women are important.
“Imagine being a low-income woman and being screened and found to have cancer, and then feeling that you can not access the treatment you need,” the lawmaker said.
In addition to the programs already in place, Collins is looking forward to new breakthroughs in breast cancer research.
“Just last week I met with researchers at Harvard Medical School,” she said, “and it was so exciting. I saw scientists looking at problems and thinking about them in whole new ways, and that is going to truly make a difference.”
The senior senator told the audience that she believes efforts in Washington are moving in the right direction. Just last year, she said, Congress passed a $5 billion funding bill (a $264 million boost from the prior year) that goes toward the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, they passed a $120 million bill for the Department of Defense’s peer-reviewed breast cancer research program.
“The (DoD) program has been controversial,” Collins said, “but it has produced real results. I think it’s important to keep both programs going.”
Collins brought up the Accelerating the End of Breast Cancer Act, which she co-sponsored, and its “aggressive target” of ending breast cancer or finding a means of prevention by Jan. 1, 2020.
“What I’ve found when it comes to life is that if you set a target, it rallies people and gives them a goal they can shoot for and unite around,” Collins said. “This legislation would establish a commission to accelerate this goal and be comprised of the best experts in biomedical research, breast cancer advocacy, and related disciplines.”
In order to meet the 2020 goal, Collins said there is a need for more clinical trials (and willing participants), along with more funding. She also supports an increase in biomedical research, aimed at better understanding human biology and using that knowledge to determine what causes diseases such as cancer.
“We are finding that researchers are looking at everything,” Collins said in an interview after her speech. “They’re looking at immunotherapy, and how you can activate the body’s immune resistance to target and fight cancer cells without going through chemotherapy, which often wipes out good cells as well as cancer cells. There is a lot of interesting research going on to target just cancer cells.”
Collins’ advice to those diagnosed with cancer is to explore all medical care options and to find a positive support network.
“It’s important to find people who have been through the experience,” said Collins. “You need a friend who has been through the treatment and can give you advice. That kind of support network is so important, and Aroostook County excels in neighbors helping neighbors and friends coming together to share their experiences. When you know you’re not alone while going through the treatment for this devastating disease, it really makes a difference.”