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What’s Jewish about BRCA?

The Center for Jewish Genetics, in conjunction with the Basser Center for BRCA, will host one of the nation’s leading authorities on breast cancer and a panel of experts discussing “What’s Jewish about BRCA ?” on Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. A reception begins at 6 p.m.; followed by the program at 7 p.m. Cost is $18 per person.

“BRCA refers to hereditary mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that significantly increase the risk of breast cancer both in women and in men,” said Jason Rothstein, director of the Center for Jewish Genetics.

“While everyone faces a risk of cancer, Jewish men and women with an Ashkenazi background are 10 times more likely to have a BRCA mutation than the general population,” he said. “The connection between the mutation and breast cancer is widely known, but individuals with BRCA mutations also face an increased risk of ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma.”

Panelists at the Oct. 14 event-all experts in fields ranging from medical oncology, surgery and gynecological oncology to genetics and advocacy-will discuss a variety of topics, including strategies for identification of high-risk individuals and families, and options for intervention.

“If you don’t know you’re at risk, you can’t make an informed decision about [how to address] that risk,” said keynote speaker Dr. Susan M. Domchek, MD, during a recent interview. She is a nationally recognized expert in breast and ovarian cancer genetics; hereditary cancer risk and prevention; and breast cancer treatment.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were identified in 1994 and 1995 respectively-within a year of Domchek’s graduation from medical school. “I have grown up with the discoveries related to these genes. During the past 20 years, so much has been learned,” she said.

“Genetic testing is valuable because you can identify individuals who are at increased risk of developing cancer,” she said. “Family history is important as well. If you have a strong family history of cancer, that’s important to know for screening and prevention. It’s important to talk to your health care provider about the pros and cons and what will work best for you,” she said.

Domchek is executive director of the Basser Center for BRCA in Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center; director of the MacDonald Cancer Risk Evaluation Center; and the Basser Professor of Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on understanding breast and ovarian cancer susceptibility in genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 , and how to target such genetic mutations for improved cancer treatment. Domchek has been recognized as one of the “Best Doctors in America” by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and as a “Top Doc” in Philadelphia Magazine .

Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune Health and Family reporter, will moderate the event.

Expert panelists include Taya J. Fallen , CGC, Northwestern University; Melissa K. Rosen , MA, Director of National Outreach, Sharsheret; Catherine E. Pesce , MD, breast oncology specialist at NorthShore University Health System; and S. Diane Yamada , MD, Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology and Chief, Section of Gynecologic Oncology, at University of Chicago.

This article originally ran in the September 2015 edition of JUF News.



I'm a writer, editor, photographer and artist living in rural Southeastern Wisconsin. I grew up in Chicago, made my way to the deep woods of Northern Minnesota and then landed here among the cornfields and cows. It's quite simply my happy place.

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