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Understand Your Risk: The Jewish Cancer Connection

Did you know the general population has a one in 400 risk of having a BRCA gene mutation? For people with Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern Europe) heritage, the risk of inheriting a BRCA gene mutation from either their mother or father is one in 40. Having a BRCA gene mutation increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers.

The Jewish Cancer Connection

The general population has a one in 400 risk of having a BRCA gene mutation. For people with Ashkenazi Jewish (Eastern Europe) heritage, the risk of inheriting a BRCA gene mutation from either their mother or father is one in forty. Having a BRCA gene mutation increases the risk of developing certain types of cancers.

Early Detection

Having a BRCA gene mutation puts you at higher risk of developing certain hereditary cancers including breast (male and female), ovarian, and prostate. These cancers can often be prevented or treated more effectively if detected early, so it is important to understand your risk and your family’s health history.


Did You Know?

Women with a BRCA gene mutation have a 50 – 85% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and a 40 – 60% risk of developing ovarian cancer, for which there is currently no available screening.

Men with a BRCA gene mutation have up to a 10% lifetime risk of developing male breast cancer as well as an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Each son and daughter of either a male or female parent who has a BRCA gene mutation has a 50% chance of inheriting their parent’s BRCA gene mutation

Men are equally as likely as women to inherit and pass on BRCA gene mutations to their sons and daughters.

About half of people with a BRCA gene mutation have no known family history of cancer.

What is Genetic Counseling and Testing?

Genetic counselors have advanced training in medical genetics and counseling to guide and support patients seeking more information about how inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families, and to interpret genetic test results based on an individual’s personal and family history. A healthcare provider may refer you to a genetic counselor who determines which test is needed, orders the test from a laboratory, collects and sends the DNA sample, interprets the test results, and shares the results and what they mean for you and your family.

Why Consider Getting Tested?

Genetic testing can provide life-saving information for you and your loved ones. Even if you are healthy you may want to consider genetic testing to determine if you have a BRCA gene mutation. Knowing your BRCA gene mutation status can help inform health decisions for you and your family, and may help to prevent or detect cancer at an early stage.

How to Find a Genetic Counselor

The National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Find a Genetic Counselor directory offers access to more than 3,300 genetic counselors in the U.S. and Canada. Check with your medical insurance company to verify coverage of genetic counseling, testing, and authorized providers.

For more information, visit AboutGeneticCounselors.org.

Insurance Coverage for Genetic Testing and Counseling

Genetic counseling and testing are often covered by insurance companies (either in part or in full) if a person meets certain criteria. Some genetic testing companies may offer testing for inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 variants at no charge to patients who lack insurance and meet specific financial and medical criteria.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are required to pay for both genetic counseling and BRCA testing for women who meet certain criteria. For these women, insurance companies must cover the entire cost of genetic counseling and BRCA testing with no out-of-pocket costs to the individual.

Emotional Support and Educational Resources

Oneinforty has a team of mental health professionals who volunteer their time to provide confidential emotional support to individuals and families who are considering facing their BRCA risk. We understand the emotional complexity of BRCA gene mutation risk. You are not alone.

For emotional support and guidance from a licensed clinical social worker affiliated with Oneinforty, please contact Betty Cooperstein, LICSW

How to Order a Home Test Kit

For individuals who would prefer not to have an in-person and/or virtual appointment with a licensed genetic counselor, at-home test kits are another option. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests can be purchased online or in stores. Customers send the company a DNA sample and receive their results directly from a secure website or in a written report. DTC genetic testing provides access to genetic information without necessarily involving a healthcare provider or health insurance company in the process. There is currently little regulation of DTC genetic testing services, so it is important to assess the quality of available services before pursuing any testing. Oneinforty encourages consultation with your healthcare provider before considering any genetic testing options.

Companies that offer direct-to-consumer test kits include: Myriad, Color, JScreen, and Invitae.

Additional Support Resources

Basser Center for BRCA

The Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center is the first comprehensive center for the research, treatment, and prevention of BRCA-related cancers.

Learn More »

Boston Cancer Support

Boston Cancer Support is an online resource whose mission is to improve the quality of life for all those affected by cancer in Massachusetts.

Learn More »

Virginia Thurston Healing Garden Cancer Support Center

The Healing Garden Cancer Support Center provides high quality, evidence-based therapies in a magnificent healing environment.

Learn More »

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE)

FORCE is a national nonprofit that improves the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers.

Learn More »


Sharsheret, Hebrew for “chain,” is a national nonprofit organization that supports young women and families facing BRCA gene mutations, breast, and ovarian cancer at every stage – before, during, and after diagnosis.

Learn More »

Oneinforty Webinars

Our virtual educational programming features leading healthcare providers presenting information about hereditary cancer, Ashkenazi Jews’ one-in-forty risk of inheriting a BRCA gene mutation, treatments for cancer, clinical trials and more. Through these webinars, you can learn more about BRCA gene mutations, the Jewish-Cancer connection, and hear from others as they share their own personal stories.

Watch Webinars

Knowledge is Empowering Symposia

We love connecting with our community in person, once it is safe to do so. Our in-person events are opportunities to learn from experts about Ashkenazi Jews’ one-in-forty risk of inheriting a BRCA gene mutation. Panelists discuss genetic counseling, the rationale for testing for BRCA gene mutations, managing cancer risk, and resources available for those who carry BRCA gene mutations. Individuals who have a BRCA gene mutation share their stories followed by a Q&A session.

Speak with Your Family

At Oneinforty, we understand that starting a conversation with your relatives about their cancer history can be difficult. Here are some ways to start the conversation with your loved ones*:

  • Explain that you are trying to create a record of your family’s history of cancer to protect your health.
  • Share that you have learned about the one-in-forty risk of certain cancers among those with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, and that certain cancers can run in families.
  • Invite your family members to respond in a way that works best for them.
  • Write down what you learn.
  • Share with your healthcare provider.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control