Community should be screened for genes linked to cancer, scientists say

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Community should be screened for genes linked to cancer, scientists say

Researchers say Ashkenazi Jews are five times as likely to carry genetic mutations linked to ovarian and breast cancers

Pictured, a doctor or nurse holding a mammogram in front of x-ray illuminator. (Credit: Queen Mary University of London)
Pictured, a doctor or nurse holding a mammogram in front of x-ray illuminator. (Credit: Queen Mary University of London)

The Jewish community should be screened for genetic mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

A study, published today in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, called for genetic testing across the community.

Researchers said Ashkenazi Jews are five times as likely to carry a mutation of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes, which are linked to ovarian and breast cancers.

BRCA mutations put women at a higher risk of both ovarian and breast cancers while also increasing the risk of male breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers, researchers said.

“Our findings support introduction of genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer genes across the entire Jewish population, beyond just the current criteria-based approach,” said Dr Ranjit Manchanda, who led the research.

Early detection of genetic mutations could potentially save many lives in the community, the study found.

“Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease that is usually diagnosed late, with less than half surviving five years and only a third surviving ten years after diagnosis,” Dr Manchanda said.

The study found that a majority (60 percent) of carriers do not qualify for BRCA genetic counselling under current NHS policy.

Only individuals with a 1 in 10 chance of carrying a BRCA mutation can access testing on the NHS – but most carriers fall below this threshold.

To qualify, patients must have a parent, sibling or child diagnosed with a cancer linked to the gene.

Early detection could enable BRCA carriers to take preventative steps to reduce their risk of cancer, such as increasing screenings, surgery or medication.

Athena Lamnisos, CEO of Eve Appeal, the charity that funded the research, said the study demonstrated “just how many people from a community who we know to be at higher risk of carrying BRCA mutations […] and where we can prevent this, may be missing out on testing under current policy.”

“Stopping cancer before it starts for this group is possible. We must make sure that testing is available to enable women to make choices about how they manage their risk,” she added.

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