In Israel, push to screen for breast and ovarian cancer genes leaves many conflicted

Angelina Jolie's advocacy for cancer testing stirs Israeli debate

Israel has one of the highest rates of breast and ovarian cancers because the mutations that cause these diseases are present in higher frequencies in Jews of Ashkenazi (of European descent) ancestry as a result of centuries of insularity. Yet, the country has one of the lowest percentage of preventive mastectomies in the western world–while 36% of American women and 33% of females in the Netherlands who have been diagnosed with breast cancer opt for prophylactic surgery, only 4% of Israeli women make that choice according to a 2008 International Journal of Cancer study that compared risk-reducing procedures for samples of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers in Canada, the United States, Israel and six European countries.

The announcement earlier this year by actress Angelina Jolie to opt for prophylactic surgery after learning she carried a potentially deadly cancer mutation has helped spur vigorous public debate. Leading scientists in Israel are now advocating what may be the first national screening campaign to test women for cancer-causing genetic mutations common among Jews — tests that are already forcing young women to make agonizing choices about what they want to know, when they want to know it and what to do with the information.

The push could have political repercussions. Because mutations are not as commonly found in non-Jews, Mizrahi Jews (of Middle Eastern ancestry), Sephardic Jews, (of Spanish/North African ancestry), it is likely women from these groups would be routinely included among those screened for BRCA mutations, a point of contention in a country where a social and ethnic rift already divides Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews.

Read the full article here: In Israel, a Push to Screen for Cancer Gene Leaves Many Conflicted

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