Health advocacy group bands with Hadassah to fight new breast cancer screening guidelines

Health advocacy group ba

nancy brinker 248.88 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
nancy brinker 248.88
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
On the heels of an embarrassing flap that prevented two Israelis from attending a breast cancer conference in Egypt, Susan G. Komen for the Cure - which organized the event - announced a new partnership with Hadassah. The two organizations conveyed the alignment as a unified front against recent updates on guidelines for breast cancer screenings that fly in the face of what both groups have preached in recent years. The new recommendations, by the US Preventative Services Task Force, say women can wait until age 50 to get a mammogram, the screening procedure that was previously recommended for women 40 and older. But in its partnership with Hadassah, Komen also was able to clarify its role in negative headlines surrounding last month's breast cancer conference in Egypt. Initial reports said two Israelis invited to attend would be denied visas, an assertion Komen said was misinformed. "Their visas were never denied," Nancy Brinker, Komen's founder, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. "We did the very, very best that we could given the circumstances we were dealt." According to Komen officials, the two Israelis - a dermatologist and psychiatrist - were to be among 30 breast cancer advocates from the region attending a training seminar during the conference, held October 21 to 27. Just before their trip, low-level employees at Komen got "misinformation" from equally low-level employees on the Egyptian side, a spokeswoman for Komen, Emily Callahan, said. After working with the US Embassy in Cairo, she said, Komen was able "to clarify that it was misinformation. Indeed, the Israelis were invited to come," Callahan said. She stressed that Komen has worked in Israel for years, and to date, has underwritten $2 million in research grants for scientists and doctors in Israel. "We were very upset about it," said Brinker, who is Jewish, and who founded the Komen foundation in her sister's name after she died in her 30s from breast cancer. She said the organization has spent a "tremendous amount" of time and resources defending their role in the incident. "The thing that troubles me and hurts personally are these incendiary email bombs" that contain "nasty things about me personally," Brinker said. "They are disruptive." Still, others tell a different version of the story. They say it was only in the wake of protests by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that a decision to bar the Israeli participants was reversed. And by then, it was too late for the women to feel comfortable traveling to Egypt. After news broke, the Anti-Defamation League issued a strong statement, calling the exclusion of the Israelis "shocking" and "contrary to the stated purpose" of the aims of the conference, which were to promote regional cooperation in the fight against breast cancer. But Nancy Falchuk, president of Hadassah, vouched for Brinker's and Komen's account. "I will validate everything Nancy is saying," she said. Falchuk said the press published the story before there was time to rectify the situation. The downside is that news about research, Israeli and Palestinian medical collaboration and other developments got sidelined. "We hope we can set some of the record straight," she said. "We're moving forward." Both women emphasized Brinker's productive visit to Israel following the conference in Egypt. And officials at the Komen organization said they are planning a major event to take place in Israel sometime next year. "I think the message that we just want to both be on record as saying is, 'There's no place for politics in medicine.' There's no place for nationality," said Falchuk. To that end, Falchuk and Brinker said their organizations have come together in opposition to new guidelines for breast cancer screening. In particular, the news has roiled Ashkenazi Jewish women, who are five times more likely to have the BRCA1 breast cancer gene, which accounts for 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. "The announcement was clumsy," said Brinker. "It ignored the behavioral science part of this. "We've acculturated women to be proactive about their care… and then you drop something like this. It's like dropping a bomb on a fragile group of people." She and Falchuck affirmed that their groups' guidelines would remain the same. "I do worry about women with higher risk factors," she added. "I do worry about Ashkenazi Jewish women, African American women" and others. "Mammography is not perfect," she said, "but the fact is we don't have anything else to replace it."