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Molecular Imaging Clinical Trial Changes the Course of Breast Cancer Patient’s Treatment

Kimberly Reinika had a plan. She received a diagnosis of breast cancer, and she and her doctor decided on a one-year process that involved chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and recovery.

Kimberly Reinika had a plan. She received a diagnosis of breast cancer, and she and her doctor decided on a one-year process that involved chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and recovery.

That was her plan.

But her doctor, Colleen Coleman, M.D., asked Kimberly if she would be willing to participate in a one-of-a-kind clinical trial, as part of Hoag’s new Molecular Imaging and Therapy Program. The trial would provide her with access to state-of-the-art molecular imaging, a relatively new field that focuses on imaging molecules to see if microscopic cancer cells have metastasized elsewhere in the body.

When Kimberly showed up to the clinical trial, Gary Ulaner, M.D., PhD., FACNM, director of the Molecular Imaging and Therapy Program at Hoag, made a point of thanking her. By participating in this trial, he explained, she was helping to contribute to a new and exciting field of oncology that could change the way the medical community approaches cancer.

Then, Dr. Ulaner called with the results.

Kimberly’s cancer had spread to her bones and her lymph nodes. A biopsy then confirmed the clinical trial’s findings, and it was clear Kimberly’s plans would have to change. Surgery would no longer be the best option for therapy, as the cancer had spread beyond what surgery could address.

“There are women who go through all this treatment – chemotherapy, radiation and surgery – and then they find out that the cancer spread, and they didn’t catch it,” she said. “I’m lucky that I didn’t go through all that and then find out that I had cancer in my bones. I avoided the pain and the recovery. It’s a blessing in disguise.”

Armed with the information that only molecular imaging could have provided, Kimberly and her oncology team at Hoag changed how her cancer would be treated. She undergoes regular infusion treatments and takes medication that is keeping her cancer at bay, while helping her maintain her quality of life. The molecular imaging trial at Hoag helped her receive the most effective treatments for her extent of disease, while avoiding side effects from treatments that would not have been effective.

Kimberly recently went to Hawaii, where she camped and hiked. She does Pilates and has stayed active and social. She has also maintained a positive attitude and a sense of humor about her situation: she jokes that her infusions and medication sound like mouth-watering Italian dishes. There’s Zometa, an infusion she receives every three months, as well as her oral medication, Verzenio and Anastrozole.

“They sound delicious,” she said. “But really, the treatment is allowing me to keep working and doing the things that I love to do. I’m feeling very optimistic.”

Her optimism has helped Kimberly to readjust her expectations about cancer. Instead of a year-long intense process, she is on a milder life-long treatment path. As her experience with the molecular imaging clinical trial has taught her, medicine advances every day, allowing patients to thrive. “It’s the only trial of its kind in the world, and it’s available at Hoag, and I was a candidate for it,” Kimberly said. “I feel very fortunate. So far, my blood work has been good, my immune system is doing well.

Kimberly said she feels fortunate that Hoag offered this unique clinical trial opportunity. Not many patients get access to molecular imaging now, but Kimberly said she predicts this will become a standard diagnostic option for patients in the future. “If this is where the future is going, it would eliminate having to do the other scans, and it could help doctors in the future pinpoint exactly where the cancer is for treatment.”

While Kimberly’s plans have changed, her lifestyle and positive outlook have not.

“It’s all manageable. Everything coming at me has all been manageable,” she said. “I’m taking it all in stride. If any of the medications that keep cancer at bay stop working, I’ll keep trying new things. They are making such great advancements.”