Breast Cancer: Prevention is better than a cure, part 1

Dr. Susan Love is a breast cancer surgeon turned researcher, who has dedicated her life to the eradication of the disease. As the Chief Visionary Officer of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, she is at the helm of an active research program that is focused on finding the causes of breast cancer, and preventing it from happening in the first place. DiscovHER talks to her about her research, her achievements, and why there is a need for more women in Science.

You are an emblematic figure in the fight against breast cancer. Why did you embark to create a Foundation with the mission of eradicating this disease?

When I became a surgeon, over the years it really was impressive how little we had progressed in terms of breast cancer. We still do not know what causes it, and we still don’t understand the anatomy of the human breast.

There’s a story I like to tell about these two surgeons who are walking along the river. They see two bodies floating in the river, so they get in, take out the bodies, and resuscitate them, but more keep coming. Eventually, one of the women gets out and starts walking and the other asks where she is going. The first woman says she is going to see where the bodies are coming from.

So, that is my philosophy. That is what I want to do.

The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation is behind a number of studies and initiatives in relation to breast cancer. Do you think a cure will ever be found?

I can’t say because one of the problems that we are finding with the current research is that there are a lot of different kinds of breast cancer. So, thinking about just one cure is probably not that simple. What’s more, cancer cells get out of the tumor and into bloodstream before we get there with our screening.

The most realistic way is to figure out what causes it and prevent it from happening in the first place, instead of focusing only on treatment.

What is holding back research focused on prevention?

Humans are one of only a few species who get breast cancer. Yet, we do all this research on rats because they are easy and cheap to study, even though they do not naturally get breast cancer. Our anatomy is so different. Human breasts are unique and go through their own cycle of changes that starts at puberty and ends at menopause. Animal surrogates do not have breasts when they are not lactating and do not develop breast cancer, and are therefore limited in what they can teach us. There has to be more research on women and men to understand why it is that humans get breast cancer as opposed to other mammals.

For a number of years, you have been taking part in conferences on breast cancer all around the world. Why is education on this topic so important for your Foundation?

I think it is important to get everybody to understand what the issues and problems are and to try to answer them. In science, we can get stuck in our own little niche, and miss out on the big picture, where the answer may be. At Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, we have a unique approach to education which reflects an understanding of the patient, the doctor, and research advances. We are uniquely qualified, because of our ongoing work with breast cancer researchers, patients and survivors, to provide information about all possible options, so that people can make the most informed decision to manage their health.

Are you interested in Dr. Love’s work? Find out more on the foundation’s website, and let us know what you think @4womeninscience.

For Women in Science

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