Race for the Cure fights for prevention of breast cancer among Bahamian women

Saturday January 15th, 2011

AN INTERNATIONAL movement to prevent deaths from breast cancer will descend on Paradise Island this morning to fight for prevention among Bahamian women as one of the world's most at-risk groups.

Susan G Komen's Race for the Cure is being held in the Bahamas for the first time today, with more than 100 delegates taking part in the race expected to have around 1,500 supporters and breast cancer survivors participating.

The world's largest breast cancer association has partnered with Marathon Bahamas this weekend to host their first race of the year in the Bahamas for the first time, as well as their Bahamas mission delegation, on Paradise Island today.

Former US Ambassador to the Bahamas Ned Siegel and his wife Stephanie, a breast cancer survivor and board member for the Susan G Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance, were instrumental in forming the race partnership and have returned to their second "home" in Nassau for the weekend.

Mr and Mrs Siegel unveiled the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative in 2008 and laid the foundations for crucial research into breast cancer in the Bahamas with $300,000 funding from Susan G Komen.

Studies have found breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Bahamian women and health officials estimate 300 to 500 new cases are diagnosed in the country every year.

Of these around half of the women, 48 per cent, are under age 50.

The average age of diagnosis in Bahamian women is 42, compared to 62 in the United States.

And 45 per cent of Bahamian women diagnosed with breast cancer are in the late stages of cancer, compared to 12 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in the US.

This makes US guidelines to start breast cancer screenings after age 40 irrelevant in this country, Medical Director of the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative Dr John Lunn said.

He and his team, through research funded by Susan G Komen for the Cure, have also found that around 23 per cent of Bahamian women diagnosed carry the BRCA1 gene mutation, which puts them at greater risk of breast cancer.

Bahamian women have the highest prevalence of this genetic mutation out of any population in the world, Dr Lunn said, as 45 per cent of women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer have been found to have a BRCA1 mutation. He explained the "staggering" statistics to delegates and breast cancer survivors at a pre-race event hosted by the Bahamas Cancer Society following a medical round table discussion yesterday.

"The implications of these findings are immense and very important," Dr Lunn said.

"Not only does it predict early breast cancer, but there's a particular molecular pattern of an aggressive disease.

"If you have a BRCA1 mutation we suspect you have a 60 per cent chance of developing breast cancer before you're 50, and a 40 per cent chance before you're 40.

"That's really a staggering statistic."

He said it is critically important to provide genetic testing for every Bahamian woman diagnosed with breast cancer so doctors can provide genetic counselling, test family members, offer rational strategies for prevention and monitor the frequency of the gene.

Dr Lunn also hopes to expand this for all women undertaking routine screenings as it would allow doctors to monitor the occurrence of BRCA1, which is currently estimated to affect around three per cent of the population and considered to be "extraordinarily high."

He also called for delegates to lobby the government to pass legislation that will prevent insurance companies from discriminating against BRCA positive women.

Liz Thompson, President of Susan G Komen for the Cure, encouraged advocates to continue to support work in the private sector that proves worthy of government support by virtue of its success.

"We have done that by investing initially in the research programme, so we know what the problem is here, and it's big and it's daunting," she said.

"But we're not afraid to move to the next level by using advocacy and creating an expanded research agenda, so we'll begin that.

"We as an organisation look forward to working with you on these challenges, moving them to opportunities and advancements over the coming years, and I'm sure once we partner with you on those specific initiatives that we agree on, we will move forward.

"So we don't just come in and have a race and have a fun day, we're here to use that awareness for sustained programming that's really going to make a difference for the people that live here and are surviving and thriving."

The weekend rave events will raise funds to support the Bahamas Breast Cancer Initiative, Cancer Society of The Bahamas, Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation, Sister Sister Breast Cancer Support Group and Komen's Circle of Promise.

For a full lineup of events log on to www.komen.org/bahamas where you can also pledge a donation.

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