Angelina, Beyonce and Me: Inherited Cancer Risks in the Jewish Community and Beyond

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Sponsored by the Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics

You've undoubtedly heard of Angelina Jolie, but have you heard about the so-called Angelina Jolie effect? This term
– originally coined by Time magazine – refers to the significant increase in genetic testing for BRCA mutations following Jolie's 2013 announcement that she carries a mutation in her BRCA1 gene and had undergone a risk-reducing double mastectomy.

BRCA mutations are linked to an increased lifetime risk of breast cancer in both women and men, ovarian cancer in
women, and several other malignancies in women and men. These mutations occur in about one in 500 people in the general population and are more common among certain populations, such as people with Ashkenazi Jewish, African or Hispanic ancestry. For example, among individuals with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, BRCA mutations occur at rates 10 times as high – affecting about one in 40 people. These mutations often run in families, passing down from mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. If a parent has a mutation in a BRCA gene, there is a 50 percent
chance each child will inherit that mutation. Fortunately, there are several ways to take action to reduce risk.

To begin, commit to learn more about BRCA-related hereditary cancers. They will be the subject of a free educational program at the Morton Arboretum on the evening of Thursday, November 14, presented by the
Norton & Elaine Sarnoff Center for Jewish Genetics. Roz Varon, breast cancer survivor and Emmy Award-winning traffic anchor for ABC 7 Chicago will moderate the panel program, which is set to feature:

  • Genetic counselor Taya Fallen, MS, LCGC, Insight Medical Genetics
  • Community member Rachel
  • Clinical psychologist Sari Ticker, PsyD, Cancer Wellness Center
  • Oncologist Funmi Olopade, MD, University of Chicago Medicine

The What's Jewish About BRCA? event will focus on cancer risk among individuals with Jewish ancestry, though all are welcome and encouraged to attend. While BRCA mutations affect people with Jewish ancestry at disproportionate rates, Jolie – who is not Jewish – demonstrates that BRCA mutations can affect anyone. The goal of the program is to help attendees feel empowered with information and resources, such as the concept of a family health history.

Family health history is an important tool that healthcare providers use to assess a person's risk for certain diseases, including hereditary cancers. You can collect relevant information by talking to your relatives about health conditions that affect your family, including symptoms and age of onset. There are several print and digital tools available to help you capture the data and share it with your healthcare provider.

Next, learn about available resources, such as genetic counselors. These licensed professionals have advanced
training in both medical genetics and clinical psychology and conduct comprehensive risk assessments to help you make personalized, informed decisions about your genetic health. You can access a genetic counselor through local health systems, in a private practice setting or through a community program, such as the Sarnoff Center for
Jewish Genetics. Meeting with a genetic counselor does not commit you to get genetic testing.

Meanwhile, other celebrities are bringing BRCA mutations back to the spotlight, as Angelina Jolie did in 2013. Mathew Knowles, father of singers Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Solange Knowles, recently opened up about his breast cancer and BRCA2 diagnoses, encouraging men – and everyone – to advocate for their own health
and the health of their family.

Will there be a Beyoncé effect? Only time will tell.

Register for What's Jewish About BRCA? at juf.org/BRCApanel. The program is free with advanced registration. Doors open at 6 p.m. for a reception and resource fair and the program will begin promptly at 7 p.m.

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