Ashkenazi Jewish women are known to have a predisposition to the inherited breast cancers BRCA1 and BRCA2, but currently genetic testing in this group is limited to women affected by breast and ovarian cancers and those who are unaffected, but have a family history of the disease. Ms. Sari Lieberman, a genetic counsellor at the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, Jerusalem, Israel, told the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics (ESHG) on Sunday, May 28, in Copenhagen, Denmark, that offering open-access BRCA testing to Ashkenazi women unaffected by cancer, regardless of their family history, enables the identification of carriers who would otherwise have been missed. Carrying one of the mutations for the BRCA genes means that women affected have a 50-80% risk of developing breast cancer and a 20-50% risk for ovarian cancer. "We knew that half of these carriers have no family history of cancer, and therefore would not have been identified had the test been offered on the current personal and family history criteria," she says. "As a genetic counsellor, it is frustrating and saddening to see the results of this policy, where patients are often only identified as BRCA carriers once they have been diagnosed with cancer."
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