New breast cancer data: 7 things a Jewish woman should know

Lisa Keys

Angelina Jolie addressing the audience after premiere of her movie,

Angelina Jolie addressing the audience after premiere of her movie, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” in Sarajevo, Bosnia. (Amel Emric/AP Images)

(JTA) — Should you get tested for the BRCA gene? What if you test positive? What would Angelina Jolie do?

When it comes to how to handle the risk of breast cancer as a Jewish woman, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. It can be hard to know how to proceed.

Fortunately, JTA writer Erica Brody‘s comprehensive story, “New breast cancer stats: What’s an Ashkenazi woman to do?” surveys doctors, geneticists, scientists and experts, and breaks down the breast — whoops, best — practices for you.

Here are the top 7 takeaways from the story, which is well worth a full read.

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1. The fact is one in 40 Ashkenazi women have the BRCA mutation. “Ignoring these mutations does not make them go away,” Dr. Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who discovered the BRCA1 gene, told JTA.

2. Some good news: Among those who are BRCA positive, a prophylactic double mastectomy decreases the risk of breast cancer by 95 percent. (And often the surgeries preserve nipples and reconstruction is done at the same time.)

3. Genetic testing is more affordable and available than ever before. The price used to be about $4,000 without insurance; but following a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it’s dropped to about $250. And “Obamacare” mandates coverage for mammograms and preventative measures for many more women.

4. Who exactly should get the test? According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, tubal or peritoneal cancers — on either your mother or your father’s side — you should talk to your doctor about your health, your risks and whether or not genetic testing and counseling are next steps.

“Unlike a disease that belongs to a woman alone, the discovery that a woman is a BRCA gene carrier means there is a 50 percent chance that her first-degree relatives are carriers, too,” Dr. Tamar Peretz, director of Hadassah Medical Organization’s Sharett Institute of Oncology in Jerusalem, said.

4. You can just buy a DIY kit, but you should probably seek medical advice. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends women “talk with a health care professional to learn if their history might put them at risk for carrying a BRCA mutation. Women who screen positive should receive genetic counseling and, if indicated after counseling, BRCA testing.”

6. If you do not have a family history, similar advice applies: Talk to your doctor. Drawing on your overall health and family background — and taking current recommended practices into account — together you can come up with a prevention plan that’s right for you.

7. Perhaps most important of all — for all women: Your daily habits matter. Exercise regularly, eat healthy foods and get a good night’s sleep. “Only up to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are due to a genetic mutation; 90 percent are due to how you lead your life,” Dr. Marisa Weiss, the president and founder of, told JTA.

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