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BLOOMINGTON — Susan G. Komen — which funds research, screenings, treatment and education programs to combat breast cancer — has announced a goal to reduce the nation's breast cancer deaths by 50 percent in 10 years.

Komen plans to achieve its goal — announced in September — by improving access to timely, quality cancer care for the underserved and by enhancing Komen's research focus on lethal breast cancers.

"We know that people die of breast cancer for two reasons: a lack of high-quality breast cancer care accessible to everyone and a lack of treatments for the most aggressive and deadly forms of this disease," said Dr. Judith Salerno, Komen president and CEO. "We are taking direct action designed to solve these problems to reduce breast cancer deaths by half in the U.S. within the next decade."

Fund II Foundation is contributing $27 million for a program that is initially targeting 10 metropolitan areas to significantly reduce with Salerno called an "appalling" difference in death rates between African-American and white women. African-American women are nearly 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women. In some cities, the gap is as high as 74 percent.

"This constitutes a public health crisis that must be addressed, first in the cities where these death rates are highest, and then in all areas of the country," Salerno said.

Komen's African-American Health Equity Initiative targets cities where mortality rates and late-stage diagnosis of African-American women are highest. The goal is to reduce the mortality gap by 25 percent within five years of beginning work in each city.

The 10 cities are Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, Dallas, Los Angeles, Virginia Beach, Atlanta, Houston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. The program will expand to Baltimore and Detroit later.

"No longer should African-American women be more likely to die from a breast cancer diagnosis than others," Fund II Foundation President Robert F. Smith said. "Through this grant supporting Susan G. Komen, Fund II Foundation will help address these unfair disparities across our country."

The second part of Komen's plan is to enhance research on aggressive forms of breast cancer and metastatic disease, meaning stage IV cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

"The majority of breast cancer deaths are from metastatic breast cancer," Salerno said. "We also know that aggressive forms of breast cancer are more likely to recur and spread, so we are focusing our efforts in both of these areas."

The new initiative will attempt to advance research into new treatments for aggressive and metastatic disease and to use technology that can detect breast cancer early to reduce the risks of metastasis and recurrence.

Komen announced $32.7 million in research grants across 23 states and seven countries. The grants include $1,235,700 in funding for research at three institutions in Illinois: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Chicago.

Salerno said Komen's goal builds on progress made since Komen was founded in 1982.

"Death rates from breast cancer have declined by 37 percent since 1990," she said. "We have more treatments than at any time in our history. We've come a very long way from a time when breast cancer couldn't be discussed publicly."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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