Sisters Take Proactive Approach to Breast Cancer Risk

Knowing they have a strong family history of cancer, sisters Ashley Brooks and Stephanie Payne wanted to get a better understanding of their personal risk for developing breast cancer. “My gynecologist, Dr. Douglas Louk recommended I be evaluated through the High Risk Breast Cancer Program due to my family history,” said Ashley Brooks. “I put it off for a couple of years but then decided it was finally time to put my health first. I understood my risks for developing cancer and I wanted my sister, Stephanie to be evaluated as well.”

“My gynecologist, Dr. Kalpen Patel made sure I got a referral to the High Risk Breast Cancer Program,” said Stephanie. The High Risk Breast Cancer Program at High Point Medical Center provides breast cancer screening, chemoprevention, genetic risk evaluation, individualized cancer surveillance plans and prevention programs for individuals at an increased risk of developing breast cancer due to personal risk factors.

“Because of Stephanie’s personal risk, we recommended a breast MRI, in addition to her annual mammogram, and genetic testing,” said Dr. Akiko Chiba, breast surgical oncologist, High Risk Breast Cancer Program. “A breast MRI can detect breast cancer at an earlier stage than mammogram alone, especially if the patient is younger and has dense breasts. Genetic testing can identify genetic mutations that are known to increase the risk of cancer. If a mutation is found, a management plan can be created to reduce the risk of cancer development or increase the likelihood of early detection.”

The breast MRI discovered a small tumor in Stephanie’s left breast which was not previously seen on her screening mammogram and Stephanie was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer. Additionally, genetic testing determined Stephanie has the CHEK2 gene mutation which increases an individual’s risk for breast cancer, colon cancer and other cancers. Women with CHEK2 mutations have a 25-39% lifetime risk of breast cancer.

“The words ‘you have cancer’ are always going to be shocking,” said Stephanie. “I was prepared though. I knew there were a lot of factors working against me like my family history of cancer and that I had a child later in life.”

“Most patients who receive a breast cancer diagnosis will need a team of breast specialists such as surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, genetic counselors, and nurse navigators,” said Dr. Chiba. “It is important that we are all involved in determining the best care plan based on the patient’s cancer and then work together to make sure we holistically treat the patient.”

Today, Stephanie shows no evidence of cancer. “We believe there is low chance of Stephanie’s cancer recurrence due to early detection and the tumor’s positive response to chemotherapy,” said Dr. Chiba. 

“Faith, family, friends and my providers have helped me through this,” said Stephanie. “There are no words to describe how well I have been treated and how confident I am in my providers at High Point Medical Center. I don’t have one complaint.”

“I believe the Lord wanted me to make sure my sister came to the High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic,” said Ashley Brooks. “Everyone has been phenomenal. They are very thorough and don’t leave any rock unturned.”

Both Ashley and Stephanie want women to know that getting an annual mammogram and staying on top of your health is crucial.

“Be proactive, be your own advocate, and get your yearly mammogram.”