KALISPELL - A genetic test that's giving hope to thousands of women across the country diagnosed in the early stages of breast cancer is available at Kalispell Regional Medical Center.
The test has been available for some time at Kalispell Regional Medical Center and experts say that early detection is critical in utilizing this tool -- and annual mammograms -- are the first line of defense.
"Women need to be diligent about getting screened every year for breast cancer, it's what saved my life," said breast cancer survivor Carolyn Prussen. "I was diagnosed in March of 2016 with invasive ductal carcinoma which is an invasive form of breast cancer. It was terrifying and I really didn't know what it meant to my family or my families future."
"When you're diagnosed with breast cancer the first emotion that you have is fear. Some of it is a fear of being sick, some of it is a fear of not being there for family, but a lot of the fear of breast cancer is a fear of the unknown," commented Breast Surgical Oncologist Dr. Melissa Hulvat with the KRMC Bass Breast Center.
"Carolyn was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer which means that thankfully we removed it with surgery before it spread to her lymph nodes. She went on to have radiation but the choice was whether she needed hormone therapy or hormone therapy plus chemotherapy," said Dr. Hulvat, who recommended that Prussen get the Oncotype DX test.
What this test does is it segments these women into three groups; people who don't need chemotherapy, people who do need chemotherapy and there has always been this middle group that we haven't really known what to do with," Dr. Hulvat explained.
A whopping 70% of women with the early stage breast cancer fit into this group -- including Prussen.
"Many of these women -- even though their cancer is considered early-stage -- have still gotten chemotherapy because we don't want to miss anybody who really needs chemotherapy," Dr. Hulvat said.
But now these women no longer have to wonder if they should or shouldn't get chemotherapy -- a new study published earlier this month confirms to doctors the middle group can avoid chemotherapy.
"We're not just guessing, we're not just giving everyone all of the treatments because we are afraid of their cancer. We are able to really refine it and say this is what your specific cancer means to you and the treatment that you need along with the treatment that you don't," Dr. Hulvat told MTN News.
"We can run this test and tell them what they need and what they don't need and we can make the unknown go away and alleviate a fear that I know Carolyn had," Dr. Hulvat added.
Prussen didn't have the results of the study to go on when she decided against chemotherapy -- she only had what she describes as state-of-the-art personalized care from an exceptional team of advanced medical professionals.
"Life-changing chemotherapy -- the side-effects can be devastating and long-lasting. Radiation wasn't a walk in the park but was definitely better than the alternative," said Prussen who has now been cancer-free for nearly two-years.
More than 170 women with breast cancer received treatment at Bass Breast Center at KRMC in 2017. Statistics show that 250,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.