Actress Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy after discovering that she had the breast cancer gene common to Ashkenazi Jewish women.
Often, when someone is coping with an extraordinary loss, the feelings can be all-encompassing. When Paulinda Schimmel Babbini’s daughter, Robin, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 20, instead of letting the tragic death immobilize her, Babbini made it her mission that no one else should go through what she had.
Critics fear that Jewish genetic research also opens a Pandora's box. The discovery of a shared genetic marker among men who claim to be descended from Kohanim grew into wild, exaggerated claims in the media that geneticists had confirmed the story of Aaron
While within the general population about 5 percent of cancers can be attributed to a hereditary syndrome, in the Jewish community, that number is closer to 30 percent. The good news is that knowledge about how the mutation causes cancer is opening scientific doors to more effective, targeted treatment for those already diagnosed. And people who have the genetic mutation can take preventative measures to drastically reduce their breast and ovarian cancer risk.
Dr. Beth Y. Karlan is the director of the Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Research Institute at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. Her specialty is ovarian cancer, the deadliest of gynecologic cancers and one that is diagnosed in more than 22,000 women annually.
They say brakha, I say brucha in referring to BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, the strong predictors of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer found with unusual frequency in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Yes, "brucha," the Hebrew for blessing. Initially, I was being facetious by giving a Jewish pronunciation to the "Jewish gene"; at age 56 I had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and "tumor humor" helped me cope.
MRI is increasingly being recommended as a complimentary screening tool, especially to find invasive tumors.
For as long as she can remember, Dr. Beth Karlan has been driven to answer one elusive question: what is the difference between a normal cell and a cancerous cell? While the question is common among medical researchers, Karlan's progress in discovering at least a partial answer has been both heartening and a continuing stimulus to continue the search.