Woman with Lynch syndrome keeps one step ahead of cancer

Special Reports

Rachel Gitner undergoes annual testing since losing her mother to cancer

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After losing her mom to cancer in the 1990s, Rachel Gitner is doing everything she can to not only keep herself healthy but to encourage others to do the same.

Gitner’s mom battled several cancers at a young age, including uterine and colon cancer. But it wasn’t until she was dying that doctors carried out genetic testing and found she had Lynch syndrome — an inherited condition in which a person has genes associated with a higher risk of many cancers.

“When we got that answer for her, I just thought, I’ve got to get testing for myself because I want to know what I’m up against,” Gitner said.

She learned, through the testing in her late 20s, that she has the same genetic mutation for Lynch syndrome. It was a discovery that led her to Legacy Health and Doctor Gina Westhoff.

“The risk of colon cancer with all Lynch syndrome genes is over 50%, so quite high,” Dr. Westhoff said. “And for those of us in the general population, the risk of colon cancer is 5-6%.”

Dr. Westhoff said those with Lynch syndrome have two options: remove certain organs to prevent cancer and/or get yearly screenings of all of the areas that are at risk.

Gitner does both.

“I just decided once I was done having children I didn’t need it anymore and just wanted to get it out,” she said. “I figured a hysterectomy is a lot easier to deal with than uterine cancer.”

Gitner was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s. It was detected early thanks to her seeking out tests. However, there’s currently no proven link between Lynch syndrome and breast cancer.

Now, she visits her gynecologic oncologist several times a year. She’s cancer-free but is still considered a “pre-cancer patient.”

The mother of one son said she’s thankful for current technology to hopefully keep him and others safe from these often-deadly cancers.

“When it’s time for my son to do that, if he decides to get tested, that cancer will be not a big deal and he could do it with the ease that I didn’t have and my mom certainly didn’t have,” Gitner said.

Dr. Westhoff said people should keep their family histories updated with their primary care doctors to know if or when they should get tested for the genes associated with Lynch syndrome.

The testing costs about $250.

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