CEO of Susan G. Komen, leading breast cancer organization in World talks to WBTV

Published: Sep. 23, 2014 at 11:49 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "We are going to be successful. We're getting there."

That's the word from Susan G. Komen President and CEO Dr. Judy Salerno. The Harvard-trained physician took over the top position a little over a year ago. Komen is the largest breast cancer organization in the world.

"We've learned so much over the last 30 years about this disease," Dr. Salerno said in a sit-down interview with WBTV Anchor Molly Grantham. "We've learned it's a family of diseases – it isn't a SINGLE breast cancer disease. And right now I think we are at the cutting edge of making great breakthroughs, great strides."

When asked about the latest research, Dr. Salerno said she's excited about research coming out from Washington University in St. Louis about a "vaccine".

"I would like to think we're going to find a 'vaccine' to prevent breast cancer," she said. "I don't think this is Pollyanna-ish. I think it'll happen in the next year. The way of science you never know how close you are, but we are in touch with these researchers every day."

Komen gave Washington University a $6.5-million dollar Promise Grant for this research. The "vaccine", Dr. Salerno says, would first and foremost help women who have already had breast cancer NOT have a recurrence.

"People die from breast cancer when they have a recurrence of the disease in a different place in their body, often not the original place of the tumor," Dr. Salerno said. "So what we need to do is take one's own immune system and have it fight the tumor. This will hopefully prevent recurrences. I believe we're not only going to be finding answers for breast cancer and improving treatment and ultimately prevention, but I think some of this research will lead to a lot of new discoveries which will be applicable to other kinds of cancer as well."

Komen raises its hundreds of millions every year from 130-plus "Race for the Cure's" held across the world. Charlotte's Race – set for next Saturday, October 4th – is one of the top 15 in size and fundraising.

"If Komen receives so much money," Molly asked, "why does it seem like more and more cases continue to be diagnosed?"

"We've been making strides in how people live longer," Salerno said. "The statistics are wonderful in that when Komen started if you had a diagnosis of early stage breast cancer, you had a 74% probability of living five years. Now it's up to 99%. We're catching tumors earlier and getting people into treatment earlier. All those things make a difference."

Some statistics from Dr. Salerno:

  • Komen has invested $850-million dollars into research since the organization's inception.
  • .83-cents of every dollar you donate goes directly to programs.
  • Every year Komen gives out between $100-million and $125-million in NEW grants.
  • Komen as a national organization has given $31-million specifically to North Carolina scientists.
  • And a number local Komen Charlotte also broadcasts: 75% of what is collected at "Race for the Cure" in Charlotte, will stay in the Charlotte area to help local men and women fighting here.

"We invest in people," Dr. Salerno said. "This year we will be able to give out $50-million dollars in community grants and $50-million in research grants. We are not only here to improve treatment, but we will also stay here until we have a cure for breast cancer."

What's the one message she wants everyone to know?

"There's hope," she says. "That's the strongest message I can give."

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