Ashkenazi cancer study leads to calls for overhaul of screening process

Ashkenazi cancer study leads to calls for overhaul of screening process

Breast cancer screening
Breast cancer screening

Y9Bw205ZA huge study into testing for cancers in the Ashkenazi Jewish community has led to calls for the screening process to be overhauled. 

Researchers say the work shows that by offering testing to the whole population of Ashkenazi Jews it would detect 56% more people with cancer-related BRCA mutations, compared to the current way of testing which is based on family history.

The study by the Genetic Cancer Prediction through Population Screening Study (GCaPPS), funded by the Eve Appeal, allays concerns that such ‘population screening’ would affect adversely affect Jewish women’s quality of life or psychological state. 

It also shows that by offering screening to all Ashkenazi Jewish women aged 30+ for BRCA mutations, it would save the NHS money, when health bosses had asked whether such a roll-out would be cost effective.

Those with Ashkenazi Jewish descent have a much higher prevalence of harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations than the rest of the population, with one in 40 known to be carriers, compared to a national average of one in 800 women.

Women carrying these altered genes have a 45% to 65%% chance of getting breast cancer in their lifetime, and a 15% to 45% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Treatment can mean having the ovaries, fallopian tubes and/or breasts removed.

But current NHS testing is only offered to people on the basis of well-defined criteria, involving a personal or family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

However the authors argue in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute this week that screening the whole Ashkenazi Jewish population “would reduce the number of ovarian and breast cancers and save the NHS £3.7 million”.

Using economic models, they show that if 71% of the eligible 114,000 women are screened, this would mean 276 less ovarian cancers and 508 fewer breast cancers.

“The study provides valuable evidence for reviewing the national screening process for cancers within specific populations,” said a spokeswoman for the Eve Appeal.

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