What is BRCA
‘BRCA’ refers to two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that play an important role in supressing tumours. Faults or ‘mutations’ in these two genes are linked to the development of cancer.
If an individual inherits a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene fault from either of their parents they are more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Four BRCA-associated cancers have been identified: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer.
An individual with a BRCA gene fault may often referred to as as a ‘BRCA carrier’ or as ‘BRCA positive’. The term ‘carrier’ in this context should not be confused with the use of the same term in reference to recessive Jewish genetic disorders (JGD). You can read more about what it means to be a carrier for a recessive JGD here.
Inheriting a BRCA gene fault
BRCA genes are inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that a person who has a fault in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 has a 50% chance of passing on that mutation to each of their children.
BRCA and Jews
In the UK general population, approximately 1 in 250 people have a fault either of their BRCA genes. However, the prevalence is significantly higher in individuals with Jewish ancestry.
1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a fault in a BRCA gene, while approximately 1 in 140 people with Sephardi Jewish ancestry has a BRCA gene fault.
Further, 40% of ovarian cancer cases and 10% of breast cancer cases in the Jewish community are BRCA related. 89% of the Jewish individuals in the UK with a BRCA gene fault are unaware of their status.