BRCA1 tumor supressor protein. (Shutterstock)
Navigate to News section

Study Yields Sobering Results for Jewish Women

All Ashkenazic women may carry genetic mutation linked to breast cancer

Sara Ivry
September 05, 2014
BRCA1 tumor supressor protein. (Shutterstock)

Oh for those halcyon days when only women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer had unique cause to worry about the likelihood of facing chemo themselves. Now, according to a new study from Israel, every woman of Ashkenazic descent may have reason to be alarmed.

A team of researchers in Israel and the United States have found that even without any family history of cancer, Jewish women may carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations—those linked to breast and ovarian cancer. While women who have a family history of these cancers have often been advised to undergo genetic testing to see whether they too carry a mutation, and thereafter to undergo mastectomies and/or hysterectomies to reduce the risk of developing cancer, those without cause to believe they were mutation carriers had no reason to take such steps.

Now every Ashkenazic woman is thought to be a potential carrier, and, the researchers say, widespread genetic screenings may be in order.

“We didn’t want to recommend population screening until we knew that women who carry the mutation who are ascertained through a population approach have the same risks as women who are ascertained through a relative or having had cancer,” Dr. Mary-Claire King, a breast cancer geneticist and author of the study, told the New York Times. “The new study ‘settles that argument.’”

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 40,000 women died from breast cancer last year, and more than 230,000 new cases were diagnosed. Ovarian cancer is expected to kill 14,000 women this year; nearly 22,000 will receive a diagnosis of it.

Sara Ivry is the host of Vox Tablet, Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast. Follow her on Twitter@saraivry.