NHS England pushes BRCA testing for Jewish community

NHS England pushes BRCA testing for Jewish community

Jewish people in England are being invited to take part in a gene testing programme to identify carriers of BRCA mutations that elevate their risk of breast cancer.

The NHS Jewish BRCA Testing Programme is part of an NHS drive to detect cancer early, when it is easier to treat, and is targeting tens of thousands of patients who may have mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are involved in processes that repair DNA damage in cells and normally protect against cancer.

People with Jewish ancestry are about six times more likely to carry faults in their BRCA genes than the general population, raising their risk of breast as well as ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers. For example, the lifetime breast cancer risk for a woman in the general population is 11.5%, but rises to around 70% with either of the BRCA mutations.

Up to 40% of ovarian cancer cases and 10% of breast cancer cases in the Jewish community are associated with a BRCA gene fault.

The programme aims to identify around 30,000 people carrying faults in BRCA genes over the next two years, so they can seek early access to surveillance and prevention services. People over the age of 18 with Jewish ancestry are being offered a simple saliva test that can be carried out at home and mailed to labs for testing.

Thousands of patients have already been tested in a pilot phase of the programme, which is open to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent.

“BRCA testing for the people most at risk has the potential to save lives, by allowing them to take steps to reduce the chance of cancers developing or making sure that any cancer can be detected as early as possible,” according to Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England.

Those found to be at increased risk will be able to take advantage of surveillance and prevention programmes, he said.

“We know it can be daunting finding out whether or not you have an altered BRCA gene, and some people may feel they’d rather not know, but finding out early means people can get the support they need from the NHS.”

The move has been welcomed by Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, who said it will empower patients “with the knowledge and opportunity to take action to reduce their risk of developing the disease and increase the chances of an early diagnosis.”

Other initiatives launched to try to identify people at risk of cancer or in the early stages of the disease include the AstraZeneca-partnered targeted lung health check programme, which uses mobile trucks to offer lung checks at shopping centres and supermarket car parks and has diagnosed over 3,000 people with lung cancers, and a pilot study of a blood test that could detect dozens of different forms of cancer before symptoms appear.