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  • Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage

    In the U.S., breast cancer risk is slightly higher among Jewish women than among other women [25]. This increased risk is likely due to the high prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations in Jewish women of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews).

    Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and BRCA1/2 genetic mutations

    BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer genes 1 and 2) are the most well-known genes linked to breast cancer risk. BRCA1/2 mutations can be passed to you from either parent and can affect the risk of cancers in both women and men.  

    Like other gene mutations, BRCA1/2 mutations are rare in the general population. In the U.S., between one in 400 and one in 800 people in the general population have a BRCA1/2 mutation. However, among Ashkenazi Jewish men and women, about one in 40 have a BRCA1/2 mutation [26]. And, between eight and 10 percent of Ashkenazi Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene [26-27].

    BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and breast cancer risk

    Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer [28-30]. Women who have a BRCA1 gene mutation have a 50 to 70 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70. For BRCA2 carriers, estimates range from 40 to 60 percent [29]. Women in the general population have about an eight percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 [4]. (Lifetime risk of breast cancer, defined as risk up to age 85, is about 12 percent [4].)  

    This means in a group of 100 women without a mutation, about eight will develop breast cancer by age 70 (about 12 by age 85). While in a group of 100 women with a BRCA1/2 mutation, between 40 and 70 will develop breast cancer by age 70. Because these numbers represent average risk, the risk of breast cancer for any one woman with a BRCA1/2 mutation may fall outside this range. 

    Learn more about gene mutations and breast cancer risk in women.

    Learn about gene mutations and breast cancer risk in men.

    Learn about testing for gene mutations.

    Learn about risk-lowering options for women at higher risk.  

    Talking about family health history with your provider

    Your family history of breast and other cancers is important to discuss with your health care provider. This information helps your provider understand your risk of breast cancer.  

    The Office of the Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services) created an online tool called “My Family Health Portrait” that you can use to create a chart of your family’s health history. This chart may be useful in discussions with your provider about your family history of breast cancer and/or other health conditions.

    Support for people with BRCA1/2 gene mutations

    Some support groups are tailored for BRCA1/2 mutation carriers and those with BRCA-related cancers. Our Support section offers a list of resources to help find a local or on-line support group. For example, FORCE and Sharsheret are organizations that have on-line support for women affected by hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer.   

    Komen Support Resources 

    • Our breast care helpline 1-877 GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636) provides free, professional support services and help finding local support groups. We can also provide support for BRCA1 and BRCA2 carriers and those considering genetic testing. Our trained and caring staff are available to you and your family Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. EST and from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. PST.
    • Our Message Boards offer online forums to share your thoughts or feelings about subjects related to breast cancer. Our Women at Higher Risk of Breast Cancer forum within the Message Boards offers women at higher risk a place to share their own unique experiences and challenges.  

    Updated 11/15/13


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