This spring, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center celebrates its 20-year leadership of the Women’s Health Initiative, an unprecedented study that has helped save the lives of tens of thousands of women in the U.S. and around the world.
The study, which has followed the health of more than 160,000 postmenopausal female volunteers, was possible thanks to the perseverance and commitment of Fred Hutch’s researchers, including Dr. Ross Prentice and the late Dr. Maureen Henderson.
For many years, they and colleagues from around the country sought to rectify disparities in research that focused largely on men’s health, extrapolating these findings to women. And thanks to their perseverance, the National Institutes of Health chose Fred Hutch to start and coordinate the WHI, which remains the largest study of women’s health ever undertaken in the U.S.
As you will read in this issue of Quest, our researchers, through the WHI, have made a major impact on our understanding and prevention of breast cancer and other major diseases. In 2002, the WHI reported its first major breakthrough: Combination hormone replacement therapy to alleviate symptoms of menopause dramatically boosted the risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Previously, it was assumed by most that hormone replacement therapy reduced the risk of these diseases, so the findings that this combination of hormones were actually cancer-causing was stunning. Yet, the data were so solid and the study done so well that women and physicians quickly altered what was almost routine medical practice.
Millions of women stopped taking the therapy, and within two years of its publication, breast cancer rates in the U.S. started to drop. An estimated 20,000 U.S. women per year since 2002 have been spared from developing breast cancer—with tens of thousands of additional lives spared in other countries as well.
Because the WHI has been so successful, it has been funded through 2015, focusing on aging, cardiovascular diseases and cancer survivorship. Fred Hutch remains a committed leader of the WHI, seeking answers to difficult medical questions.
The WHI has taught us other lessons. Complex research requires funding—a concerted effort and the resolve of many people to push us into breakthroughs that will expand our knowledge of cancer and other diseases. It’s increasingly clear that we will have to rely more heavily on private donations, since federal funding for research is declining.
A friend of Fred Hutch, longtime Seattle businessman Stuart Sloan, puts it best: “If you want to make a difference in the fight against cancer, giving to research is the best investment you can make.”
That’s why Stuart is helping Fred Hutch start a new event to help fund our cancer research: Obliteride. The community-based bicycle event is designed to involve all of us.
Obliteride will be held Aug. 9-11. So, don’t forget to visit our website and join Stuart and me in this incredible effort to raise money to accelerate research and save lives faster.
Dr. Larry Corey
President and Director