Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance Report Finds Research for the Disease Is Underfunded, Details Gaps in Patient Services

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Marc Hurlbert, PhD

Our goal is to better serve people living with metastatic breast cancer and identify ways to accelerate research to develop new therapies.

—Marc Hurlbert, PhD

In October, the newly formed Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance (MBCA) released its report, Changing the Landscape for People Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer, which details some disturbing findings. Following a yearlong analysis of 224 clinical trials, 2,281 funded research projects in metastatic breast cancer, 175 articles on patient quality-of-life and epidemiologic studies, and survey responses from 7,900 patients, the report identified four areas of research and patient care that need improvement:

Research—Metastatic breast cancer–focused research made up just 7.1% of the $15 billion dollars invested in breast cancer research grants since 2000. Importantly though, 169 clinical trials testing targeted therapies for metastatic breast cancer addressed 8 of the 10 hallmarks of cancer.1

Quality of Life—It is estimated that 155,000 women and men are living with metastatic breast cancer and 40,000 die from the disease each year.2 According to the report, patients with metastatic disease face unique emotional, physical, and psychosocial challenges, and more needs to be done to provide support to this group of patients. In addition, the report found that quality-of-life research is particularly lacking in minority and lower-income populations.

Patient Education and Support Services—Most public attention is centered on the detection of early-stage breast cancer and survivorship, leaving an unmet need for patients with metastatic disease. As a result, more educational material with consistent information needs to be created for this patient population and disseminated across all platforms (including online and print), and outreach efforts need to be expanded to all communities, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, culture, or geography.

Epidemiology—More in-depth epidemiologic data are needed on the numbers of early breast cancer patients who later experience disease recurrence, as well as on length of survival and response to therapy.

Raising Awareness

Launched a year ago, the MBCA currently comprises 29 leading cancer charities, advocacy groups, and pharmaceutical companies, including Avon Foundation for Women, CancerCare, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Susan G. Komen, Novartis, Pfizer, Celgene, and Genentech. The Alliance aims to raise awareness of the incidence of metastatic breast cancer (232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected this year)3 and to encourage and fund more research in metastatic breast cancer, with the focus of extending life and improving the lives of women and men living with the disease.

“Our goal is to fill in some of the gaps in research and in patient information and services we have identified through our Changing the Landscape report, including launching websites for Spanish-speaking patients, providing easier-to-understand patient education material, and funding research,” said Marc Hurlbert, PhD, Executive Director of the Avon Foundation for Women Breast Cancer Crusade and Chairman of the MBCA. “We are currently looking at models for funding research that other foundations have implemented, such as the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, to determine how to best coordinate and accelerate research in metastatic breast cancer.”

Partners in Funding

Last spring, the Avon Foundation for Women and Pfizer partnered to fund $1 million in grants to advocacy, academic, and other nonprofit organizations serving the metastatic breast cancer community, to sponsor initiatives supporting patient education and quality-of-life and psychosocial services. The average grant will be about $25,000.

“We wanted to fund programs that provide services for patients going through metastatic breast cancer,” said Dr. Hurlbert. “For many patients, metastatic breast cancer is a chronic disease. Many patients still have careers, are raising children, and have very active lives, so these grants are meant to support the whole patient throughout their treatment and journey.”

The MBCA also plans to launch research to better understand why some women with early-stage breast cancer—between 20% and 30%4—have progression to metastatic disease, as well as to develop more effective therapies to extend life, and ultimately find a cure.

“We used to think that there is this magical 5-year window where if you didn’t have a recurrence, you were cured. Now, we know there is no time limit on how long it can take for recurrence to occur,” said Dr. Hurlbert. “Our goal is to better serve people living with metastatic breast cancer and identify ways to accelerate research to develop new therapies.”

For information on how to apply for a Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance grant, visit the Avon Foundation for Women website at To download a copy of the Changing the Landscape for People Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer, visit the Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance website at ■

Disclosure: Dr. Hurlbert reported no potential conflicts of interest. The Metastatic Breast Cancer Alliance receives funding from Celgene, Eisai Inc, Genentech, Lilly Oncology, Novartis Oncology, and Pfizer.


1. Hanahan D, Weinberg, RA: Hallmarks of cancer: The next generation cell. Cell 144:646-674, 2011.

2. Metastatic Breast Cancer Network: 13 Facts Everyone Should Know About Metastatic Breast Cancer. Available at Accessed October 22, 2014.

3. U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics. Available at Accessed October 22, 2014.

4. O’Shaughnessy J: Extending survival with chemotherapy in MBC. Oncologist 10(suppl 3):20-29, 2005.




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  • An estimated 155,000 Americans are currently living with metastatic breast cancer, and approximately 40,000 people (39,620 women and 410 men) will die from the disease this year.
  • Between 6% and 10% of new breast cancer cases are...