Although there is no certainty about the causes of breast cancer, recent research associates it with "socio-cultural changes which influence reproductive hormonal life, such as delaying the age of a first pregnancy or not becoming pregnant; these are probably important factors," Álvaro Rodríguez-Lescure, the vice-president of the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM), explained during an event in Madrid to mark International Breast Cancer Day, 19 October.
"Every hour, three women are diagnosed with breast cancer and every year 6,000 women die in Spain, which is one every 90 minutes. These figures are very important. They show that there is still a long way to go in cancer research, even though the survival rate for this type has increased from 70 per cent to 90 per cent in the past 20 years," he said.
The most important advances have been in the area of molecular biology. "Since 2004 there have been working groups for the different types of breast cancer," says José Ángel García Sáenz of the Geicam Breast Cancer Research group, which has assisted 48,000 patients in its 24 years of existence. "The next advances will be in the field of immunotherapy and 'big data' for molecular, genomic and clinical data."
The second part of the research is progressing slowly. The 'manifesto' of the Spanish Breast Cancer Federation (Fecma) stresses the need for homogeneous, structured and up-to-date registers of tumours to provide accurate, up-to-date information about new cases and deaths.
"It is worrying to think that one in every eight women is going to suffer from this illness," says Eva María Ciruelos, the president of the Solti Breast Cancer Research Group.
"We need to divide breast cancers into smaller but more homogeneous groups so that drugs are more effective and to avoid unnecessary costs and toxicities. Every patient should be able to obtain biological information about their tumour," she says.
The challenge, then, is to create a complete database and platforms so that every patient can find the most effective treatment, know how they are progressing in a certain area, what their quality of life is going to be like and their real likelihood of survival. At present, this information only reaches 17 per cent of the registers in Spain.
"We have to fight so that women with breast cancer do not feel they are battling it on their own," insists Antonia Gimón, the vice-president of Fecma.