To Test or Not to Test: A Question Ashkenazi Jewish Women Must Weigh in Light of a New Breast Cancer Study

September 25, 2014 3:00 PM

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Until now our understanding of inherited breast cancer genes has been mainly limited to individuals with a personal or strong family history of the disease. Not only was a personal and family history necessary to qualify for genetic testing, but the presence of the disease was thought to be crucial evidence that the BRCA gene mutation in that family put them at a high risk for developing both breast and ovarian cancer. But, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has turned that thinking on its head by showing that many Jewish women of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) descent carry a BRCA mutation that can cause just as high a risk of the disease even when there is no family history of breast cancer.

This study has raised a lot of serious and sensitive questions among clinicians and advocates about the complex impact of screening all Jewish women for the BRCA mutations, a move that the authors of the study have recommended.

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