Jewish people are five times more likely to be BRCA carriers compared to the general population. BRCA carriers have a mutation in their BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 genes that increases their risk of certain types of cancer – including breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer. Both female and male BRCA carriers have a 50% chance of passing on their mutation, and raised cancer risk, to their children.
Genetic testing identifies if a person is a BRCA carrier, enabling them to consider various options to manage their cancer risk and improve their health outcomes. Although 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews are BRCA carriers, BRCA awareness and testing uptake in the UK Jewish community is very low.
BRCA testing on the NHS is available to individuals assessed as ‘high risk’ using their family-history based approach. However, using this approach, over 50% of Jewish BRCA carriers will not meet the risk threshold required to access testing and so be missed∆. Many private services also offer BRCA testing but these are often unaffordable and lack appropriate genetic counselling.
A cost-benefit analysis† of BRCA testing in the Jewish population concluded that thousands of lives, as well as significant NHS funds, could be saved if NHS testing were made available to all Jewish adults – not just those considered ‘high risk’. And yet today, the Jewish community is not fully utilising the current restricted NHS service as many of those already eligible are not accessing this vital service.