The Edmond Sun

August 2, 2013

Doctors discuss BRCA cancer gene risk

Kristine Meggenberg
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — “I’m 37, I started getting a mammogram at age 35 so technically I’m ahead of the game and life is hectic right now. I’ll miss my mammogram this year but I’m sure everything will be fine, right?”

Wrong. This was Stephanie Paladini’s frame of mind before she felt a lump in her breast last fall.

Paladini quickly made an appointment with her OBGYN to do a biopsy on the lump that they both hoped was benign. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and Paladini was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Paladini’s OBGYN asked her if she wanted to do a test that would determine if she carried the breast cancer susceptibility gene, commonly known as BRCA. Paladini felt it was unnecessary because no one in her family has ever had cancer, or so she thought, but she reluctantly did the test and was shocked by the results. Paladini is BRCA 1 positive, which means she has inherited mutations in her genes and faces a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared with the general population. 

“Dig deep in your family history and have that conversation with your OBGYN, it could save your life,” Paladini said. “After I did research on my family history I realized my great-grandmother had breast cancer.”

Paladini recently shared her story at Inspiration Tea Room for a conference about genetic testing. Paladini shared the floor with Lara Theobald, M.D., Julie Hansen M.D., and Whitney Driver, M.D. The conference was aimed at women in Oklahoma City who may hear about genetic testing in the media but are not sure what tests are available to them, how to receive genetic counseling and to help women understand what factors a doctor evaluates for genetic counseling.

Genetic testing is expensive but if your doctor determines you’re a good candidate for testing your insurance should cover expenses. The BRCA gene mutation is uncommon. Inherited BRCA gene mutations are responsible for about 5 percent of breast cancers and about 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers. Nearly 80 percent of women who get breast cancer do not have a family history of this disease.

Theobald felt it was important to speak at this conference to clear up a lot of misconceptions about breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Women may hear or read a lot of correct information about cancer but are unsure how to apply it to their individual lives, she said.

“I am passionate about cancer because you become very close with patients and you see how it effects every part of their life,” Theobald said. “Never hesitate to ask your doctor questions.”

The BRCA gene recently has received a lot of attention because of celebrities like Angelina Jolie openly talking about having BRCA and being proactive about their health.

“She (Jolie) would be pleased about the dialogue this has opened,” said Hansen, an OBGYN at INTEGRIS Family Care Edmond East.

Driver specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Lakeside Women’s Hospital. Driver’s discussion focused on ovaries, hormones and how they can impact your risk for cancer. Driver said when women are considering a hysterectomy they should discuss their age, risk of heart disease and quality of life with your doctor.

“Women come to me and say ‘Get it out! Take it all out!’ but you need to take a step back and discuss the risks of having a hysterectomy,” Driver said.

Paladini ended the conference with her favorite quote that she feels applies to genetic testing “Know more, do more.”

TO LEARN MORE about genetic counseling visit or