New genetic markers help flag breast cancer risk

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Around 350,000 women in the United States are walking around right now with a genetic marker that makes them at high risk of getting breast cancer.  A new program at BayCare St. Joseph's Women's Hospital aims at finding these women before they develop cancer and offering them preventative treatment.

Whitney Payne works in marketing at BayCare -- a relatively new job for her and one that has special meaning. "It's nice to be doing something for the company that saved me." 

Whitney was 25 years old when she felt a lump in her breast. Her doctor sent her to BayCare breast surgeon Dr. Robert Gabordi.

"Most 25-year-olds are not getting mammograms unless they have a strong family history or a known genetic mutation," he offered.

Whitney didn't have a strong family history -- or so she thought.

"My aunt had breast cancer when she was 45.  Looking back now, that's very young, but I was never that concerned with it."

After Dr. Gabordi recommended genetic testing, Payne found out not only is she BCRA1 positive -- which makes her high risk for a reoccurrence of breast cancer and ovarian cancer -- but she found out her father was the BCRA1 carrier.

"I had a double mastectomy because of that gene. Because I'm at high risk of a reoccurrence of breast cancer, so lumpectomy wasn't an option for me."

While genetic testing isn't new, there are new mutations doctors look for now.

"Some of the newer genes, particularly when we’re discussing breast cancer, are ATM, CHEK2, PALB2. These all have different risks for breast cancer and different risks for other types of cancer,” Dr. Gabordi explained.

BayCare supported Dr. Gabordi's advanced genetic training. Newly diagnosed patients use the genetic information for treatment options. Then their relatives can get counseling to determine their breast cancer risk and receive preventative treatment.

"So they can make a decision on how to be followed,” Dr. Gabordi continued.  “Typically that's with 3D mammograms and an MRI alternating every six months as part of our high-risk screening protocol."

Whitney is now an advocate for women on the advantages of genetic testing. Since she knows she's at high risk of ovarian cancer, she can take her own proactive approach.

"We have bloodwork I do every two months monitoring for breast and ovarian cancer. And, before I'm 35 or after I've had my kids, it's recommended I have my ovaries removed."

Another service BayCare now offers is pre-testing counseling. That helps determine what type of risk a patient might have and how important genetic counseling would be for her or him. 

The doctor says, in most cases, insurance will pay for the testing and treatment.


The FOX 13 Care Force is teaming up with the American Cancer Society to Make Strides Against Breast Cancer, and you can join in.  The upcoming Making Strides kickoff parties will help participants form teams for the walks and become successful leaders.

Here's what you need to know to make your reservation ahead of the kickoff parties:

-Pinellas kickoff: August 17, Vinoy Golf Club, 6 p.m.
Reservation: Makingstrideswalk.Org/pinellasfl

-Hillsborough kickoff: August 24, Straz Center, 6 p.m.
Reservation: Makingstrideswalk.Org/tampafl

-Pasco kickoff: August 24, Hilton Gardens Inn Suncoast Parkway, Lutz, 6 p.m.
Reservation: Makingstrideswalk.Org/pascofl

-Polk kickoff: August 29, Lakeland TV Studio B, 202 N. Massachusetts Ave., 6 p.m.
Reservation: Makingstrideswalk.Org/polkfl

The Making Strides walks take place in October, which is breast cancer awareness month. Join FOX 13's Linda Hurtado, Chris Cato, and Ken Suarez at participating events.

-Pinellas: Saturday, October 14 - Vinoy Park - Walk 9 a.m.

-Pasco: Saturday, October 14 - The Shops at Wiregrass - Walk 9 a.m.

-Polk: Saturday, October 14 - Polk -Lake Mirror - Walk 9 a.m.

-Hillsborough: Saturday, October 28 - Amalie Arena - Walk 9 a.m.

LINK: For more information about Making Strides events near you