In the United States, breast cancer risk is slightly higher among Jewish women than among other women . This increased risk is likely due to the high prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic 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 through your mother’s or your father’s side of the family and can affect the risk of both female and male cancers.
While BRCA1/2 mutations are rare in the general population, between eight and 10 percent of Ashkenazi Jewish women carry a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene [5,28,153].
BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and breast cancer risk
Women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer [7-9]. Estimates of this increased risk vary greatly. Women who carry 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 . Women in the general population have about an eight percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 . (Lifetime risk of breast cancer, defined as risk up to age 85, is about 12 percent .)
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 or BRCA2 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 genetic 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.