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Angelina’s `Jewish Gene’

The actress wrote a new NYT oped about her prophylactic surgery; here's the JW's take on all the talk.

Sat, 05/18/2013 - 20:00
Special To The Jewish Week
As Angelina Jolie has found, you don't have to be of Jewish descent to carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
As Angelina Jolie has found, you don't have to be of Jewish descent to carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Celebrity Angelina Jolie's recent decision to opt for prophylactic surgery after she determined she is a carrier of a mutation in the BRCA1 gene has prompted media attention the world over. Media descriptions of her “Jewish gene”, however, are misguided. 

In fact, BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are found in every man and woman, regardless of religious, ethnic, or cultural background. To refer to them as "Jewish genes" misinforms the public, leaving thousands of young women and men who may not be of Jewish descent, or who are uncertain of their family origin as a result of adoption, unaware that they, too, may be at risk of hereditary breast or ovarian cancer. 

One in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent carries a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, compared to 1 in 345 men and women in the general population.  It is important to note that hereditary cancers that may result from genetic mutations account for only 5-10 percent of breast cancers overall. Those mutations -- not the genes themselves -- are at the heart of Ms. Jolie's decision.  Each mutation increases significantly the likelihood that a carrier will develop breast cancer (80-85 percent), ovarian cancer (40-60 percent), or related cancers in their lifetimes. 

Moreover, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are not solely the concern of women.  Men, too, carry these genes, and may pass mutations down to their children.  All women -- and men -- should understand their family history of cancer to determine if they may be at increased risk of these mutations, particularly those in the Ashkenazi Jewish community with a strong family history of related cancers.

Know your family history.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  But for thousands of Jewish families whose members were killed during World War II, tracing multiple generations of family history can be a difficult, if not impossible, task. And for those Jews living in communities in which conversations about cancer and disease are still considered taboo, the reticence to discuss genetics and mutations compounds an already difficult discussion.

Ms. Jolie's decision to write about her experience presents a unique opportunity to educate the public – and the Jewish community at increased risk -- about genetic mutations that to date have received little attention. It is critical to continue that education with accurate and reliable information that will enable thousands of men and women to take appropriate control of their health and make informed decisions.

Rochelle L. Shoretz is founder and executive director of Sharsheret, an organization helping Jewish women with breast cancer.

Adam Dickter, Angelina Jolie, BRCA1 gene, BRCA2, breast cance, Breast Cancer, Rachel Shoretz, Sharsheret

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Yes, it's likely that Angelina Jolie has Jewish heritage. But, a simple DNA test can determine whether a person has Jewish heritage. The DNA test can break down European, Asian, African and other ethnicities and races. It can determine if the Jewish heritage is Ashkenazie (European) or Sephardic (Spanish). For approximately $100, DNA sites like DNAtribes.com will send a person a swab kit and return the results.

Her grandmother was a Pole, Grandfather Dutch-German
Thats just on her mother's side! Let alone Voight lineage.

To soe of the conmenters here: ANYONE can carry this gene! How about doing some research on independent sites with scientific data before mouthing off when you have no idea what you are talking about?

Individuals should be allowed to medically best for themselves.
Many individuals taking anti retroviral drugs for HIV.

That's their choice.

Its a very brave decission
Is there any chance of lymphoma in breast reconstruction surgery

dr. haroon khan:
The literature indeed documents the occurrence of lymphoma after reconstruction. Perhaps you can tell us, if statistically it is more likely to occur with implants, than with the other techniques. Just another of a multitude of ramifications and considerations that a women needs to totally investigate, discuss with her surgeons, and the trade off of doing a prophylactic mastectomy/and or ovarian removal, while she is still healthy.
Watchful waiting, frequent mammograms, and even more sophisticated testing is available. Most breast cancer in menopausal women is not extremely aggressive in terms of progression, so prudently being tested at sufficient intervals is not an unreasonable option. In my opinion.
Also, and this is only a tiny bit tongue in cheek, NOT doing reconstruction makes it a heck of a lot easier to get through the TSA at the airport without being sexually mauled.

The gene mutation is most often found in French Canadian and Ashkenazi Jews. Angelina Jolie is French Canadian and not jewish.

Angelina Jolie is not Jewish. This gene mutation is carried on Ashkenazi Jews AND on French Canadian of which Angelina Jolie is French Canadian.