Ontario, Canada - For the first time in Canada, Jewish women will be offered the chance to alter their genetic destiny by taking a test – at no cost to them – that will determine whether they are at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
By screening for three inherited breast cancer gene mutations common to those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, Women’s College Research Institute scientists have an ambitious goal: to prevent the dreaded disease before it strikes.
They plan to do that by offering adult Jewish women in Ontario, with no known family history of breast or ovarian cancer, the blood test to screen for three specific mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, beginning this Thursday. Jewish women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer who have never been tested are also eligible.
If expanding genetic testing to this group proves worthwhile, it could alter the way the testing is offered across Canada by recognizing one’s inherent risk of cancer, simply due to ancestry.
The goal of the test is “to prevent cancer,” said Steven Narod, director of the familial breast cancer research unit at Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto. One in 44 Ashkenazi Jewish people carry the mutation, he noted; in the general population, an estimated one in 400 individuals carries a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2.
For Ashkenazi women, a group with mainly Central and Eastern European ancestry, the test could reveal a risk they never knew they had.
Until now, Jewish ancestry was not enough to warrant testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer anywhere in Canada; nor is there any known organized population screening of Jewish women in the United States.