While the burden of breast cancer is experienced worldwide (this year, nearly 1.5 million women will be told they have breast cancer), women from low- and middle-income countries are especially at risk. They experience far higher mortality rates — around 50% — than most developed countries (in the U.S., it’s around 16%).
This troubling statistic has motivated many into action, including The Avon Foundation for Women. In 2012, the Foundation created the Avon Global Breast Cancer Clinical Scholars program to bring outstanding clinical scholars from around the world to leading breast cancer centers here in the U.S. to study. After training under a mentor for four to eight weeks, the Scholars then take new skills back to their home countries, impacting hundreds if not thousands of patients across the globe. The program is the only one of its kind, forging a new path in the world’s fight to end breast cancer.
The goal is to share knowledge and affect positive change globally. “Each one of these people is a real advocate for change in their home country,” says Dr. Paul Goss, Chairman of the Avon Foundation Scientific Advisory Board and Director of Breast Cancer Research at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The Scholars come from as far away as Zambia, Ukraine and the Philippines, and participate in intensive trainings in a number of different areas: surgery, pathology, radiology, oncology, clinical trial design and community and public health. They often return to their home hospitals with not only a new mindset, but ideas for how to immediately apply their learnings.
“This experience helped me refine the objectives of our program in Mexico,” says Dr. Cynthia Villarreal Garza who is a clinical researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Cancerología in Mexico City. “Dr. Goss, Dr. Partridge and I continue to collaborate on research projects and are developing a study to collect information on young breast cancer patients. We want to look at diagnosis delays, risk factors, specific needs and outcomes. This information will enable us to implement supportive measures and interventions to improve outcomes and quality of life for this group of women.”
Other Scholars report to have changed their approaches to diagnostics, surgery, resource management and patient counseling. Many also have started tumor boards to address the most challenging cases.
In addition to technical training, one of the most lasting benefits, according to many of the program’s participants, are the relationships formed between colleagues.
“It was like being with celebrities from Hollywood,” says Dr. Sarah Jane Datay-Lim, who traveled from the Philippines to Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It amazed me how they are very much willing and unselfish in sharing their knowledge to other people. Seeing how passionate and committed they are with their work — and how they never stop learning and trying to improve — inspires me to be like them.”
Dr. Villarreal Garza also takes pride in the relationships she forged: “One thing is for sure: our friendship and collaborations will not end in Boston.”
Thank goodness for Skype.
Through 2014, Avon global philanthropy, led by the Avon Foundation, has donated nearly $1 billion in more than 50 countries for causes most important to women. Today, Avon philanthropy focuses on funding breast cancer research and access to care through the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, and efforts to reduce domestic and gender violence through its Speak Out Against Domestic Violence program. Visit www.avonfoundation.org for more information.
For more information on breast cancer and breast health, visit All for the Breast.