"Hope is not a good strategy, in life or in disease research. So the setting of goals, and the drive to reach them, is to be commended, and cancer is no exception. But a 2020 deadline for ‘ending’ breast cancer that former US President Bill Clinton endorsed earlier this month is misguided. Like other ‘beat cancer’ deadlines that are regularly floated, it is potentially harmful to the public trust that underpins the whole research enterprise, not to mention to the patients who understandably cling to hope, whatever its validity.
Clinton, who lost his mother to breast cancer, has become honorary chairman of a two-year-old campaign by the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which declares on its website that it has “One Mission: To End Breast Cancer by January 1, 2020”. The advocacy and research-funding organization, based in Washington DC, adds that it has a “strategic plan” to achieve that mission, by focusing on prevention and on eliminating the metastatic form of the disease, which is what kills.
The coalition provides a 4.5-page “blueprint”[PDF] that is long on aspiration and short on scientific detail. For instance, it declares that by 2020 “we must understand how to prevent people from getting breast cancer in the first place”. This goal leans heavily on the development of a preventive breast-cancer vaccine. A research plan for this is said to be “in place” and will serve as a model for other, “catalytic projects”. These could include exploiting the role of viruses and inflammation in breast cancer, and targeting the immune system to prevent metastasis"
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