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October 02, 2010

Industry with Heart

In It to End It: Avon’s Breast Cancer Crusade

by Tori Brown

Avon Foundation Centers of Excellence

The eight Avon Foundation Centers of Excellence are world-class breast health facilities that provide quality patient care and cutting-edge research, with a focus on medically underserved populations.

Avon Foundation Breast Imaging Center and Avon Foundation Research Laboratories at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center (N.Y.)

Avon Foundation Breast Center at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins Medical Center (N.Y.)

Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Evaluation Center at Massachusetts General Hospital

Avon Foundation Comprehensive Breast Care Center at University of California San Francisco—San Francisco General Hospital

at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Northwestern University (Ill.)

University of Colorado Foundation

Avon Breast Cancer Center at the University of California Los Angeles—Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Participants take part in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer closing ceremony. Participants take part in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer closing ceremony.

Walkers prepare to begin the 39-mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

A boundless sea of pink-clad women and men swiftly flows through the streets of New York City on a brisk October morning, amid the cheers of spirited onlookers. The high-voltage enthusiasm, the passion, the pink, could mean only one thing: the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

New York City is host to just one of nine spirited walks across the country, where annually more than 20,000 women, and a few brave men, boldly walk 39 miles in two days for one important goal—to end breast cancer. The walks, which start in April and run through October of each year, are significant fundraisers for the cause. In fact, through the end of 2010, they will have collectively raised more than $375 million, used to support breast cancer screenings and access to treatment—regardless of the ability to pay—plus fund cutting-edge research. But it’s more than just the money; the walks also raise awareness and emotional support for so many women and men who have been affected by breast cancer.

One out of eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, and there’s a new diagnosis in our country every three minutes. “It’s amazing to me that everyone you meet has a breast cancer story, because it’s so prevalent among women,” says Carol Kurzig, President of the Avon Foundation for Women. “That’s why we’re in it to end it,” which is also the tell-all, kick-butt mantra for the walk. And through providing far-reaching education, treatment and research, the Avon Foundation plans to do just that.

“When you have thousands of people in pink, walking through the city for two days, it puts a big pink spotlight on the cause, which is so important,” Kurzig says. “Many of our Avon representatives and employees also take part in the walk. It’s an exceptional effort from all involved.”

Walkers, made up of survivors, family members, Avon employees and representatives alike, train for months to make sure they can complete the walk, which is physically challenging, to say the least. Walkers cover 39.3 miles, to be exact, over two days—a Saturday and Sunday. That’s a marathon and a half! Even more impressive, walkers pledge to raise a minimum of $1800 for the cause, and the average walker raises $2400, with the help of family and friends. Bake sales, lemonade stands, auctions, pledges, you name it, Avon Walk participants find a way to meet their goals and make their contributions to breast cancer awareness and research.

Making a Difference

So how are the Avon Walks for Breast Cancer and the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade making a difference? Well, since launching the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade in 1992, the Avon Foundation for Women has raised and awarded a whopping $640 million to the cause and hopes to add another $45 to 50 million worldwide this year. Marc Hurlbert, Executive Director of the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, says: “When we launched the crusade in 1992, it was a time when women didn’t really talk about breast cancer. Therefore, it was especially important to raise awareness about breast health and spread the word that we had this technology available, mammography screening, which was being underutilized.”

The original program focused on raising awareness and actively linking women to early detection programs for breast cancer. “Since the inception of the program, we have educated more than 100 million women worldwide on breast health and breast cancer and have linked 15 million women to mammography screenings and early detection programs,” Hurlbert says. “In the United States alone, we have provided more than 1.5 million mammograms. The survival rate keeps improving in this country, and I think we can point to that.” The program has inevitably evolved over the past 18 years, expanding the focus on access and education to include revolutionary breast cancer research.

Ground-Breaking Research

Avon Foundation-funded, breast cancer research is diligently exploring new methods of early detection that show tremendous promise. These early screening tests, which analyze urine, blood or saliva, can show early changes in breast tissue and pinpoint—and alert—women who should be monitored closely with mammography or ultrasounds. To be clear, these tests are not aimed at detecting actual breast cancer, but the onset of subtle changes that could lead to breast cancer. These simple and inexpensive tests could be offered to women of all ages, possibly replacing annual mammography testing, especially for young women. “These exciting new techniques, which are developed but still being tested, would give us a method to detect much earlier than current technologies,” Kurzig says. The tests, if deemed clinically successful, could be available as early as 2014.

Army of Women

In addition to early detection, research is also striving to understand how breast cancer begins (so it can be prevented) by engaging healthy women in breast cancer research. Hence, the Love/Avon Army of Women.

The Army of Women is a large database of diverse women, more than 330,000 of them, who volunteer to take part in breast cancer research. “One thing we saw in our walks was how passionate our participants were,” Kurzig says. “After they raised thousands of dollars and walked so many miles, they asked, ‘What else can we do?’ And out of that came the Army of  Women.”

Pioneered by Dr. Susan Love, a world-class breast surgeon, and funded by the Avon Foundation, the Army of Women comprises a wide variety of women—including those untouched by breast cancer, breast cancer survivors, relatives of survivors and women currently battling breast cancer—to provide a large spectrum of breast tissue to be studied in various stages. To participate, women simply go online to and register to learn more about new research and how they can become involved. A few times a month, they receive an e-mail outlining what research is under way and the profile of potential participants needed. If interested, women can ask for more information to become part of the study. Studies range from simple surveys to urine samples to clinical trials.

“By engaging these women in our online database, we have changed the paradigm for scientists, who—for the first time—have access to large numbers of interested healthy women. They can look at the earliest cellular changes and research ways to stop those changes before breast cancer begins, and that is, of course, the goal,” Kurzig says.

Another perk, the database accelerates the initiation of clinical studies. Typically requiring months or even years to find the number of appropriate participants for a study, especially large studies, scientists now have immediate access to hundreds of thousands of women who are more than willing to participate.

Avon Sales Reps: Raising Awareness Worldwide

Avon sales representatives, who happen to receive zero commission on Avon Breast Cancer Crusade fund-raising products, have compassionately raised more than $150 million worldwide for the cause (since 1992). And in the process, they have tirelessly helped increase awareness about breast health in their own communities through distributing free Avon Foundation Breast Health Resource Guides. “They are the true foundation of our fund-raising achievements and the enduring voice of our grassroots network to educate women about breast cancer,” says Carol Kurzig, President, Avon Foundation for Women.

Participants cross the ‘Salida’ finish line at the Avon Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer in Mexico.Participants cross the ‘Salida’ finish line at the Avon Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer in Mexico.

Navigating Breast Cancer

The most helpful and personal Avon Foundation contribution may be the Avon Patient Navigator. Patient Navigators, simply put, are a cross between highly trained nurses and supportive social workers. Funded by the Avon Foundation, but employed by the hospital, Patient Navigators help women navigate through the maze of breast cancer. “They can help navigate this new language women have to learn when diagnosed, along with the various types of appointments to be scheduled with surgeons, radiation specialists, oncologists, etc. And imagine if you don’t have insurance coverage, they can help you complete the often confusing forms required by the city, county or state,” Hurlbert says.
“When you have an abnormal finding, a very complex series of appointments and decisions entail,” he says. “The good news is that we have a lot of options, but it can be complicated and overwhelming.” That’s why Patient Navigators are so important—to help patients understand the process and to facilitate treatment, quickly. And with breast cancer treatment, timing is crucial. The right treatment should be started within a few weeks of diagnosis, not months later, which often happens in the public health system. Patient Navigators effectively cut down the time between diagnosis and treatment. So they are literally saving women’s lives by facilitating both timely and high-quality treatment. Currently, there are a total of 165 helpful Avon Navigators dispersed throughout 75 hospitals across the country.
Worldwide Impact

The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade is escalating globally. Already active in 58 countries, more than 50 of those nations have quickly adopted the Walk Around the World for Breast Cancer to help raise awareness and funding for the cause. Hurlbert recounts, “I travel the world, and the country, to visit these hospitals and it’s so amazing to hear the stories: ‘Through Avon, I was able to get a digital mammogram,’ and ‘My Avon Navigator helped me find quality treatment,’ and ‘The Avon Foundation saved my life.’ ” He adds, “I’ve seen firsthand thousands of women who have been helped by our program, who I’ve met personally. It’s more than numbers. It’s the lives that are touched.”

“It’s amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish. We are the largest supporter of global breast cancer programs in more than 58 countries,” Hurlbert says. And two shining examples of these active programs are in Brazil and China.
In Brazil, breast cancer centers have been built in both Bahia (northeastern region) and Barretos (southern region), using best practices from the highly successful U.S. centers. “We are building on programs that we know have worked in the U.S. and expanding them around the world,” Kurzig says. And in China, the Avon Foundation partnered with the Chinese Breast Cancer Foundation to provide mammography testing and breast cancer equipment in Sichuan Province. Mobile vans were also purchased to provide mammography testing and to educate and link women with the appropriate program. “We provided $5.5 million for earthquake relief and new programs and were proud to focus $3.5 million of that on our signature breast cancer cause,” Kurzig says.

Interestingly, in some parts of the world, people are still reluctant to speak publicly about breast cancer, similar to the United States a few decades ago—before the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade and other efforts took hold. But that won’t stop Avon. The Avon Foundation is intently focused on raising awareness and publicity across the globe to get the conversation—and the treatment—moving in the right direction.

Milestones & Ambitions

In 2011, Avon Products will proudly celebrate their incredible 125th anniversary, an off-the-charts milestone for any company. As part of the big celebration, Avon and the Avon Foundation are developing an exciting new program to bring doctors together from around the world. Descending from the 58 countries where the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade is active, these hand-picked doctors are slated to study progressive treatment techniques at the eight world-class Avon Breast Cancer Centers. “By allowing foreign doctors and scientists to spend time here, they can take advantage of the progress that we’ve made here for breast cancer detection and treatment and take it back home with them,” explains Kurzig. “This will be especially helpful in the developing countries. And we will also have the opportunity to learn from the progress of other countries.”

In the past, Avon has supported scientists to visit the United States for research purposes. This new idea, however, will bring in the clinical side to allow doctors currently treating women who have breast cancer to experience firsthand the techniques that have been most successful. The goal is to create a global network of doctors and scientists who can share information and work together to improve the treatment and the lives of all women with breast cancer, regardless of where they live.

More Promising Than Ever

With the ever-growing progress of breast cancer awareness, detection and treatment, women are now diagnosed sooner and have a greater chance of survival than ever. And on behalf of women and their families around the world, we would like to thank Avon and the Avon Foundation for Women for their significant contributions of time, energy and funding that have made an enormous and measurable impact in the fight against breast cancer. “We are proud to be contributing,” Kurzig says. “We set out to make a difference in a cause that is so important to women—and to our company—and I believe we are accomplishing that. But there’s so much more to do… and the future is more promising than ever.”