There is nothing more important in a cancer diagnosis than early detection. This is the case with any type of cancer, but there could be new developments in detecting breast cancer, and Oklahoma City is leading the charge
This year about 3,000 women in Oklahoma will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Nearly 600 women will die from it. Dr. Alan Hollingsworth from Mercy Women's Center believes lives could be saved if a more effective test was created. A test like the one he and women across the Metro have been working on for two decades.
Kristye Kirk-Shores is a patient of Dr. Hollingsworth. She found out last year she had an aggressive 2.8 centimeter tumor in her left breast.
"I went through 16 rounds of chemo, three blood transfusions, and just finished my 34th radiation treatment," Kristye said.
Kristye has been getting mammograms and MRIs for over a decade. In fact, she had a mammogram nine months before her diagnosis, that missed it.
"They say if I hadn't had the MRI, if it hadn't picked up the cancer, it may have been another year or two before it was discovered," she said.
Her prognosis could have been much different. It's stories like Kristye's that have fueled the research of Dr. Hollingsworth.
Dr. Hollingsworth says there's a false belief that mammograms find 90% of cancers. He says it's really closer to 50%, but Dr. Hollingsworth thinks he may have found the winning solution.
For the last two decades he's been collecting blood samples from women at Mercy Women's Center, and sending them around the world.
"So for over the course of all these years 2,000 women have participated in this study," Dr. Hollingsworth said.
He says researchers across the globe are using those samples to create a breast cancer blood test. A tool, that could detect cancers, mammograms often miss.
"It's really exciting, of course because it would revolutionize breast cancer screening," he said.
The test is headed to clinical trial. Meaning the samples Dr. Hollingsworth has been collecting, and the women he's collecting them from, will be a part of history.
"This early detection test, blood test, I think would be amazing," said Kristye.
Kristye has more reason than most to be excited. She has three generations of breast cancer in her family and underwent a double mastectomy.
"After fighting it three generations I hope that my daughter who's nine years old, doesn't have to go through this and doesn't have to have the term breast cancer be so scary," said Kristye.
Dr. Hollingsworth has to keep his enthusiasm about the study guarded. It's gone through clinical trials once before and failed. But he says it's a battle that's worth fighting and breast cancer is an enemy he wants to defeat.
"I'd rather work on something meaningful that fails than to drivel away with some silly little research that's never going to mean anything," said Dr. Hollingsworth.
It's that hope that means the world to Kristye, and could mean all the difference to those still too young to understand.
"I think it gives those of us who have breast cancer so much hope for the next generation and for ourselves," Kristye said.
The study is in the final stages of planning and Dr. Hollingsworth will be one of the primary investigators. If approved, it could still take years for any test to be officially available. Dr. Hollingsworth said a blood test would be a fantastic resource in developing countries where mammograms and MRIs aren't available.