Jewish women and men have a 1-in-40 chance of carrying a BRCA gene mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2) — as compared to approximately 1-in-500 for the general population. This statistic places Jewish families at significantly increased risk for hereditary breast, ovarian and related cancers.
The 1-in-40 message isn’t new, but what is new is that medical experts are discussing “population screening,” genetic testing for all Ashkenazi Jews, because individuals without a strong history of breast or ovarian cancer may still be BRCA-positive. Everyone who carries a cancer gene mutation has a 50 percent chance of passing it on to the next generation, so it’s important to test for these genes when appropriate. Multi-gene panel testing can identify mutations in genes other than BRCA1 or BRCA2 as well, such as CHEK2 or PALB2, which predispose to a variety of other cancers. And if results of genetic testing in a family are negative, it is still possible that the cancer in the family is inherited, resulting from genetic mutations that we do not yet know how to identify. There are steps you can take to catch cancer early, when it can be treated or even cured, or to prevent cancer through life-saving measures including increased surveillance, prophylactic surgery and chemoprevention (the use of pharmacologic or natural agents that inhibit the development of invasive cancer). Simply put, genetic testing can save lives.