Breast cancer

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the most diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, accounting for almost 1 in 4 cancer cases. It is the second most frequent cancer amongst both sexes and is the leading cause of death from cancer in women. In 2018, there were an estimated 2.1 million new cases of breast cancer and 626,679 deaths from breast cancer, with a disproportionate number of these deaths occurring in low-resource settings.[1]

Breast cancer cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump. If spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels, it becomes advanced breast cancer. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body (such as the liver, lungs, bones or brain), it is said to have metastasised, and is referred to as metastatic breast cancer.

Survival rates for breast cancer are very high when the cancer is detected early and where treatment is available. Unfortunately, 50 to 80% of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage[2] in many low- and middle-income countries, when the cancer is more difficult to treat, is more expensive to do so, and is usually incurable.  

To tackle the growing breast cancer burden, it is critical that improvements are made in access to early detection, timely access to treatment and care, palliative and survivorship care, and comprehensive data collection through robust cancer registries.[3]

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Doctor and patient at the Hellenic Cancer Society demonstrating self-exam

UICC’s engagement in breast cancer

In order to help address the higher mortality rates of breast cancer cases in low resource settings, in 2014, UICC and other oncology organisations launched the Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5 (BCI2.5) to reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes and improve access to breast health care for 2.5 million women by 2025.

Subsequently, UICC, NCI’s Center for Global Health, Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI) and PAHO jointly produced the Knowledge Summaries for Comprehensive Breast Cancer Control (KSBC), a set of tools to help guide policymakers, advocates and clinicians in developing appropriate programmes and policies. The goal of the KSBC is to facilitate evidence-based policy actions and urgently advance implementation of an integrated approach to reduce breast cancer mortality and improve quality of life.

In 2015, UICC teamed up with Pfizer Oncology to launch the Seeding Progress and Resources for the Cancer Community (SPARC) MBC Challenge. This global grant initiative seeks to support new ideas and projects from advocacy groups, hospital networks and other non-for-profit organisations working to address the specific needs of metastatic breast cancer patients. Since its launch, the SPARC MBC Challenge has awarded a total of 1,580,000 USD in grants to over 50 organisations from 35 countries, helping to get their projects off the ground through a package of training, networking, mentoring and financial support.

Building on the experience from the SPARC MBC Challenge, and building upon the momentum for addressing women’s cancers and leveraging its experience and wide network, UICC is currently developing a comprehensive set of activities to strengthen and engage the global breast cancer community. This Breast Cancer programme will be launched towards the end of 2020.

Upcoming activities

With a strong capacity building focus, the Breast Cancer programme will seek to provide increased support to UICC members working in the field of breast cancer, extending their reach and impact.

As one of the first activities in this new programme, UICC will launch a Project ECHO course on breast cancer, beginning in October 2020 and delivered in partnership with NCI and BHGI. This course, currently accepting applications, will start in October 2020 and will provide training to cancer organisations in a virtual manner over a period of six months, strengthening their knowledge of breast cancer control and supporting the implementation of effective breast cancer control policies and programmes.

UICC will be offering further opportunities for organisations working on breast cancer in the coming months. 

Last update: 
Wednesday 8 July 2020