Oklahoma cancer center’s prestigious distinction to provide more treatment to patients

OKLAHOMA CITY - Karen Hanna underwent surgery to repair a hernia, but doctors soon discovered something much worse. She was ultimately diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.

"I knew, right off the bat, when I heard that diagnosis, that, with that, carried a high mortality rate," Hanna said. "I didn't need to Google or research; I knew."

In Hanna's case, there was a 39 percent survival rate.

Amazingly, she has no visible signs of cancer today. She credits two clinical trials she took part in at the Stephenson Cancer Center for her life now.

"It was presented to me really as an opportunity, an opportunity to be able to participate in something that could potentially save my life, become a survivor and really maybe help some of the women who come after me,” Hanna said.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma has the seventh highest cancer mortality rate in the country, but more help is on the way with a new designation announced by University of Oklahoma President David Boren on Wednesday.

"The State of Oklahoma does have an NCI designated cancer center within its boundaries, and it is the Stephenson Cancer at the University of Oklahoma,” Boren said at a conference.

National Cancer Institute designation means increased funding, higher paying bio med jobs and more focused care for a wider variety of cancer patients. It will also allow more assistance from its other 69 centers.

"I think it will allow the center to collaborate with other centers and access to new programs,” said NCI Director Dr. Ned Sharpless.

The new designation was 17 years in the making, $400 million in private and public investment, and clinical trials involving 2,500 patients.

"We'll now be one of the top places literally in the world not only to be treated but to find cures to make sure more and more people can actually survive this really dreaded disease,” said U.S. Congressman Tom Cole.

With that investment and growing reputation, more patients like Hanna can hope for life after cancer.

“I think what the clinical trials did is give me an additional opportunity to be a survivor, and I'm so grateful for that, so grateful,” Hanna said.

The NCI director said this will help their efforts on treatment for the Native American population, who have a higher cancer risk.

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