Did you know that in Europe March 8 was first celebrated as International Women’s Day in 1911? Or that the first Women’s History Week in the United States was celebrated in 1978 in Sonoma County, Calif., three years before Congress passed a resolution establishing National Women’s History Week? Or that it wasn’t until 1987 that Congress expanded the week to a month?

If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, I wouldn’t be surprised. Sometimes we get so used to something occurring that we forget to think about how or why it got started. And this isn’t just true for celebratory events. One can say the same about breast cancer research as well, where the focus has primarily been on treating the disease that has already occurred rather than thinking about what caused it to start—and how we can stop it.

As you know, our Foundation’s work challenges that paradigm. That’s why we focus our efforts on advancing our understanding of breast anatomy and physiology and the early changes that occur that allow breast cancer to develop. It’s also why we focus our efforts on what can be learned from fluid inside the breast duct, which is where virtually all breast cancer begins. And it’s why we host the International Symposium on the Intraductal Approach to Breast Cancer, which provides an opportunity for intraductal researchers to spend three days together discussing their findings
and brainstorming ways we can advance the field faster.

Our most recent Symposium was held last month in Santa Monica, California, and I still can’t stop thinking about the presentations I heard, the conversations I had, and the amazing people throughout the world who are doing the research that I am convinced is going to bring us to the end of this disease.

What did we learn? What did we talk about? These were the highlights:

  • We learned about new studies that support the idea that putting chemotherapy or other agents into the ducts to stop breast cancer from occurring is truly feasible.
  • We watched a video made by a group of surgeons in Turkey that showed how they used an intraductal scope to remove noncancerous papillomas, which grow inside the breast duct, through the nipple in much the same way you would remove a polyp from inside the colon! Never before had I seen someone do surgery inside the breast duct!
  • We heard about new research findings that are getting us closer to determining how we can use nipple aspirate fluid to assess who is at high risk of getting breast cancer.
  • We learned about a protein that is found in breast milk that can kill cancer cells.
  • We gave out $84,000 in grants to 8 researchers who are conducting groundbreaking intraductal research.

Want to know more? Stay tuned. We’ll be posting some of the research presentations along with a conference report on our website very soon. We’ll also be submitting a report for publication in a breast cancer journal so that as many researchers as possible can learn about the advances being made in the intraductal field.

So, as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s give a toast to all the amazing women and men who are conducting the intraductal research that will bring about an end to a disease that has taken the lives of far too many women we have known and loved. Let’s also give a toast to all the breast cancer advocates who are gearing up for the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s 2009 Advocacy Training Conference, which will be held May 2-5 in Washington, DC. I know that they know, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, the first female professor of history at Harvard, once said, “Wellbehaved women rarely make history!”

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