2018-07-04 / Local News

BRCA program seeks participants for DNA screening

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff

ANDY COHENANDY COHENSince a national cancer research initiative began offering free cancer screenings to Ashkenazi Jews in March, some 269 men and women in the Philadelphia region have taken advantage of the program, resulting in seven positive results that could potentially be life saving.

Meanwhile, the BRCA Founder Outreach Study (BFOR), a national research initiative headed by top experts in the field of cancer research and genetics, is still actively seeking hundreds of local residents to screen for a genetic mutation that is prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews. The groundbreaking study seeks to pilot a new method of delivering personalized genetic testing, education and crucial genetic counseling services to targeted populations.

“We’re all trying to test the best models to provide access to people to get testing and this is one strategy,” explained Dr. Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study aims to screen 4,000 people from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles metropolitan regions. Candidates register through an online platform that also links them to educational videos, test results and, if necessary, connects them with both their primary care doctors and genetic counseling specialists.

Approximately 12 percent of all U.S. women will develop breast cancer and about 1.4 percent will develop ovarian cancer sometime during their lives. The National Cancer Institute estimates that no more than 10 percent of all breast cancers are due to inherited gene mutations.

Yet for women (and men) with a BRCA gene mutation, the risks are much higher. Women carriers have up to an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer and up to 45 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer. For men, there is a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Moreover, if a mother or father is a carrier, there is a 50 percent chance of passing it on to each child.

Among the seven participants who tested positive for the BRCA mutation, some knew they had a family history while others were caught completely by surprise, said Domchek.

“It’s not easy to get this information if you’re not prepared for it,” she noted. “What we’re trying to do is give them education so they know the pros and cons of testing before they go into the program. Finding out that you have a mutation does lead to having difficult decisions to make.”

A positive test result could lead to different outcomes, she explained, noting that some women may opt for more frequent mammograms and other monitoring while others may be faced with deciding whether or not to have a preventative double mastectomy.

She added that a positive test doesn’t just affect the individual, but family members as well, who are encouraged to seek out testing.

With a long history of offering supportive services and educational programs related to cancer and the BRCA gene specifically, Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS) is encouraging local residents to take advantage of the free screenings, said Executive Director Marla Meyers.

“JFCS has been very pleased to partner with the Basser Center in their efforts to educate our community about BRCA,” Myers said. "We are strong proponents that education is one of the greatest defenses in preventing disease and in empowering individuals and we want to be sure that the Jewish community, in particular, is knowledgeable about our hereditary risks.”

For Andy Cohen, JFCS vice president, it’s personal. After his father and sister died from cancers caused by the BRCA gene mutation, his family created the Marjorie B. Cohen Foundation, which supports the Basser Center.

“If just one person’s life is saved through this study, it makes us feel that all the work and efforts everybody has been doing is making a difference,” said Cohen.

For more information, visit www.bforstudy.com .

 

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