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Jewish Women and Breast Cancer: An Update

A study recently published in the journal Science indicates that women who carry one of the two BRCA mutations have a high risk of developing breast cancer even if they have no family history of the disease. This finding negates a previous assumption that women with the mutation but no family history were not high-risk. The study also says that women with the mutations have a 20 to 50 per cent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.

The study was conducted by Mary-Claire King, the University of Washington scientist who discovered the BRCA-1 gene in 1994. In an interview on NPR, she explained that all her subjects were Ashkenazi Jewish women because they have particular BRCA-1 and -2 mutations that are easy to detect. According to the Human Genome Project at the University of Washington, 2 percent of Ashkenazi Jews carry one of the mutations.

The news, however, is not all bad. The study also showed that women with the mutations were less likely to develop breast cancer if they exercise during adolescence and maintain a healthy lifestyle as adults.