Just like many of us, Dr. Hadiyah Green has a very personal connection with cancer. After losing not one, but two loved ones to the deadly disease, she, like so many thousands of others who have lost friends and family to cancer, has set out to do whatever she can to beat it once and for all.
Instead of raising money and awareness, however, Dr. Green is using her education and unique set of skills to personally find a cure: with lasers. This is her story. (1)
Hadiyah was raised by her aunt Ora Smith and uncle General Lee Smith in St. Louis, Missouri. Always an excellent student, Hadiyah went on to study physics at Alabama A&M University, where she was the first in her family to graduate from college. (1)
Shortly after her graduation, her aunt announced not only that she had been diagnosed with cancer, but she had been keeping it a secret for eight years. Ora refused to get treatment, saying that she would rather die than go through chemotherapy or radiation. (1)
“That was a profound statement to me,” Dr. Green said. “I didn’t understand it at first.”
Her aunt died three months later. Not long afterward, her uncle Lee was also diagnosed with esophageal cancer, but unlike her aunt decided to undergo treatment. The doctors gave him three months to live, however, Dr. Green nursed him to live another 10 years. Unfortunately, chemo and radiation proved to be as horrible as Ora had predicted, and the treatments completely disfigured him. (1)
“The man that raised me wasn’t the same. He just wasn’t the same person.” Dr. Green recalled.
The big question in Dr. Green’s mind was why did the treatment have to affect his whole body when her uncle only had cancer in one spot? From that point onward, she dedicated her life to finding a treatment that doesn’t have horrible side effects. (1)
Dr. Green’s Discovery of Lasers
While working on her doctorate, Dr. Green began reading about laser technology. This was her ‘lightbulb’ moment – what if she could use lasers to target cancer cells directly? She spent the next three years working in her lab developing technology that uses nanoparticles to destroy cancer cells without harming the healthy cells surrounding them, or any cells in the rest of the body. (1)
Recently, at the young age of 35, Dr. Green has had success. She was able to kill cancer in mice without damaging the rest of their bodies, making her the first person to successfully treat cancer with lasers. (1)
The Difference Between Laser and Radiation
What is Radiation?
Radiation is the use of targeted, high-energy particles or waves (X-rays, gamma rays, electron beams, and protons) to damage or destroy cancer cells. (2, 3)
Unlike chemotherapy, radiation is usually a local treatment, meaning it does not affect the whole body, depending on the type of cancer and how it has to be administered. (2, 3)
The downside to radiation is that it can be extremely damaging to the body. There are lifetime dose limits for each part of your body, so if you’ve had it before, you may not be eligible to receive radiation again. (2, 3)
Side Effects of Radiation
As mentioned before, radiation can be highly damaging to your body, and can even put you at risk for developing other cancers because of that cell damage. (2, 3)
Other symptoms of radiation include: (2, 3)
low blood count (anemia)
All of these side effects can be painful and physically, mentally, and emotionally damaging to the patients. (2, 3)
What is Laser Therapy?
Laser, which is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, is used to treat both the side effects of other cancer treatments, as well as the cancer itself. This is done
This is done by: (4, 5)
Shrinking or destroying a tumor using heat
Activate a chemical, called a photosensitizing agent (PDT), that kills only the cancerous cells
3 Types of Lasers for Cancer Treatment
1. CO2 Lasers
The lasers cut or vaporize tissue with little bleeding and very little damage to surrounding or deep tissues. These lasers are used primarily for pre-cancers and those still in the early stages. (4, 5)
2. Argon Lasers
These lasers act like the CO2 lasers, but only go a short distance into tissues. They are used to treat skin problems, some eye tumors, and occasionally to remove polyps from your colon before they become cancer. (4, 5)
They can be used with light-sensitive drugs (PDT) to kill cancer cells. (4, 5)
3. Nd:YAG Lasers
Neodymium: Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet lasers go deeper into tissues than the other lasers. They can make your blood clot quickly, and are effective in getting at hard-to-reach places such as your esophagus or large intestine. These lasers have the ability to travel through tiny optical fibers that can be bent, put in a tumor, and heated to destroy the cancer. (4, 5)
Limits to Laser Treatment
Currently, very few doctors and medical practitioners are trained to use them. Laser equipment is costly and bulky, though strides have been made to improve this. There are extremely strict safety precautions for all in the room during treatment because the light from the lasers can be highly damaging to unprotected eyes. (4, 5)
Most importantly, the effects of laser treatment may not last long and therefore have to be repeated before fully successful. (4, 5)
Side Effects of Laser Treatment
The only noted side effects as of now are potential pain at the site of treatment and a high temperature for a few days after treatment. (6)
The Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation
She is not in it for the money: Dr. Green wants her treatment to be available and affordable for all people, regardless of social status or income. For this reason, she wants to provide it through a non-profit instead of the pharmaceutical industry. (1)
Dr. Green has founded a research center named after her aunt and uncle that focuses on finding a cure for cancer, specifically on her research into laser treatments. The Ora Lee Smith Cancer Research Foundation won a $1.1 million grant to further her patent-pending research. (1)
If you would like to support her organization and fight to beat cancer, you can visit the Ora Lee Smith Foundation website to find out how you can help.
Dr. Hadiyah Green is an inspiration to not just women, girls, and specifically African-American women, but to everyone who has been touched by cancer. Help us spread the word about this incredible young woman and her innovative new research. Together, we can win the fight against cancer!