April 17, 2013

Cancer Genetics Counselor Empowers Women with Breast Cancer

Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation Spirit of Hope Award Winner Lori Ballinger helps women with breast cancer make sense of statistics and genetics

View PDF

Breast cancer and statistics scare many women, but Lori Ballinger helps women and their families to contextualize these risks over their lifetimes. Ms Ballinger, Genetic Counselor at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, is the only licensed and certified genetic counselor providing cancer genetic services in New Mexico. Ms. Ballinger’s experience spans many aspects of human genetics and disease but her focus is cancer genetics. Her expertise adds immensely to the multidisciplinary treatment available at the UNM Cancer Center. For women with breast cancer, Ms. Ballinger combines medical information and emotional support. “The real artistry of my job is being able to take complicated information and talking about it with anyone,” says Ms. Ballinger.

With 30 years of experience in genetic counseling, Ms. Ballinger contextualizes the long-term implications of breast cancer risk and prevention. Women with a strong family history of breast cancer and other risk factors may experience more aggressive breast cancer at a younger age. These women can visit Ms. Ballinger to talk about the risk of other cancers, and the risk of cancers in family members. Ms. Ballinger provides resources and is a support for these women.

“A lot of what I do is helping women understand the risk of developing breast cancer over the long-term. We look at many factors and help women put all the information together,” says Ms. Ballinger. Some of the discussions Ms. Ballinger may have with women include how to help the family negotiate the testing process; talking about options, which include increasing screening and prevention; and, current research. Unique to Ms. Ballinger is her family approach. Ms. Ballinger works to understand what breast cancer means for the entire family. “I look at the family dynamic, and try to get a sense of how my patients will deal with this information.”

Not every woman Ms. Ballinger sees has cancer. Some women have an increased risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime based on family history or because a woman carries a gene mutation. Ms. Ballinger helps these women understand the lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. “It is important for these women to know that they do not have a life sentence, and that the risk of developing breast cancer varies across the lifespan,” says Ms. Ballinger. For example, women with a BRCA mutation are at highest risk for developing cancer in their thirties and forties, and after the age of 60 the risk is similar to other women of the same age. Ms. Ballinger not only tests for the BRCA gene but other genes as well. There are other mutations that may increase the chance of developing breast cancer, so a complete genetic evaluation is important for each patient.

Ms. Ballinger is currently pursuing two research interests. She is involved in a study that looks at the use of vitamin D for prevention of breast cancer in high-risk women, and she is researching BRCA mutations in Hispanic women.


About the UNM Cancer Center
The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the state. One of just 67 NCI-designated cancer centers nationwide, the UNM Cancer Center is recognized for its scientific excellence, contributions to cancer research and delivery of medical advances to patients and their families. Annual federal and private funding of over $65 million supports the UNM Cancer Center’s research programs. The UNM Cancer Center treats more than 65 percent of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. It is home to New Mexico’s largest team of board-certified oncology physicians and research scientists, representing every cancer specialty and hailing from prestigious institutions such as MD Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. Through its partnership with Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, the UNM Cancer Center brings world-class cancer care to the southern part of the state; its collaborative clinical programs in Santa Fe and Farmington serve northern New Mexico. The UNM Cancer Center also supports several community outreach programs to make cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment available to every New Mexican. Learn more at www.cancer.unm.edu.

UNM Cancer Center contact information
Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, (505) 340-5929, dhornbeck@jameskorenchen.com
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, (505) 925-0486, msequeira@salud.unm.edu


Tags: awards & honors, Breast Cancer, Press Release Archive 2013