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Genetic Testing in the Jewish Community

Are We Doing Enough?

Conference 2012 Recap

by Jane E. Herman

Presenter: Dr. Steven Narod, MD

People of Eastern European Jewish descent have a higher prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations than do individuals in the general population. Renowned Canadian researcher Dr. Steven Narod discussed results from a program he initiated in 2008, which offers free BRCA testing to any unaffected adult Jewish woman in Ontario, regardless of her family history of cancer. Dr. Narod's laboratory can test for the three most common BRCA mutations among Ashkenazi Jews (known as founder mutations). As a result:

  • 6,108 women were initially tested, 67 of whom were positive for a BRCA mutation
  • 81 mothers and sisters were subsequently tested, 25 of whom were positive
  • A total of 92 women were identified as carriers of a BRCA mutation

Dr. Narod estimates that 47 cases of breast or ovarian cancer were prevented, and 24 lives were saved from this testing. Dr. Narod concluded that his model is cost-effective (approximately $50 per test) and lifesaving, and he proposed expanding the program beyond Ontario. In the United States, testing for founder mutations is more expensive (about $450) because Myriad Genetics' gene patent impacts the cost of widespread testing. Population-based testing is most efficient in groups with a high incidence of BRCA founder mutations, making this model more costly and less beneficial for the general (non-Jewish) population, in which BRCA mutations are more rare.

Jane E. Herman is the executive writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She is an Outreach Coordinator in New York City and writes often about her own BRCA journey at janethewriterwrites.blogspot.com.

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