Nick Mulcahy

December 07, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — For the second straight year, members of MET UP, the metastatic breast cancer patient activist group in the United States, are attending the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium here.

However, this year, unlike in 2015, the group is not protesting in a confrontational manner, said Kelly Shanahan, MD, medical director of MET UP.

"We are holding up signs and are here as a reminder that there are real people whose lives depend on the attendees of this meeting," she told Medscape Medical News. Dr Shanahan, 56, an obstetrician/gynecologist with stage 4 disease, is from South Lake Tahoe, California, and retired from practice earlier this year.

Dr Kelly Shanahan and fellow MET UP protestors

Dr Shanahan and a group of "metsers," the appellation created by metastatic cancer patients, and their supporters held signs outside the meeting's main hall while the Susan G. Komen Brinker Awards for Scientific Distinction session was under way. "We're protesting outside the Komen presentation because it's researcher awards," she explained, referring to a symbolic importance.

The groups' signs read: Help Us Help You. Metastatic Research Now. Silence = Death.

MET UP also had a table in the meeting's exhibit hall.

We're here to bring a sense of urgency to the meeting.

"We're here to bring a sense of urgency to the meeting," Dr Shanahan emphasized.

The group's efforts may be reaching the research community.

MET UP protestors at SABCS

At today's meeting press conference, Ofir Cohen, PhD, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, prefaced his presentation on the genomic characteristics of estrogen receptor-positive metastatic disease that is resistant to endocrine therapy by saying, "There is an urgent need to develop new therapies for patients who no longer respond."

In the United States alone, 113 people with metastatic breast cancer die each day, according to Dr Shanahan.

But, as reported by Medscape Medical News, metastatic breast cancer receives less than 10% of all breast cancer research funding, which is much lower than the actual proportion of breast cancer that is metastatic (about 5% to 10% at diagnosis and about 30% of early-stage disease will progress to metastatic).

MET UP is a relatively new group, founded just last year, and is modeled on the AIDS activist group ACT UP, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

The group also wants to create links to the sizeable advocate community for early-stage disease. "There is truly a trickle-down effect in breast cancer, where treatments for metastatic disease will often benefit early stage disease," Dr Shanahan observed.

"We want to bridge the divide between early and late stage disease," she said. "We need their longevity."

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