Jewish genes may hold breast cancer secrets

By Jonathan Kalmus, August 26, 2010

One thousand Jewish women are being sought for a major cancer study after researchers conducting a £1.5 million project say Jews hold the genetic key to preventing breast cancer.

Researchers at Manchester charity the Genesis Appeal, which runs Europe's first purpose-built breast cancer prevention centre, say only 16 Jewish women have so far agreed to take part in the study.

They fear a poor turnout could jeopardise critical medical data which could be unearthed by PROCAS, the largest attempted research into the risk of breast cancer for ethnic groups, involving 60,000 people.

Many more are needed because Jews are thought to carry the highest genetic risk of breast cancer of any group. Their involvement could dramatically change the national NHS cancer screening programme to catch those most at risk.

Leading medical genetics consultant Professor Gareth Evans, who is heading the research, says he needs 1,000 Jewish women to join the project to shed light on one of three genetic mutations carried by many Jews which can raise the risk of breast cancer from eight to 80 per cent.

He said: "We are concerned that recruitment of Jewish women is way, way below what it should be in a population of its level. It is particularly critical to recruit Ashkenazi Jewish women and we are encouraging the community to join up. If we only get 100 women in, that's not going to provide a big enough sub-group to conduct a study."

Participants are asked to have two mammograms in three years, which involves painless X-rays of breast tissues. A DNA sample will also be taken. The tests take around an hour and can be arranged by contacting the Wythenshawe Hospital in south Manchester. Participants can choose to discover their genetic risk of breast cancer if they wish.

Genesis executive trustee Pam Glass, who helped found the £12 million groundbreaking cancer centre, is urging women to take part.

She said: "Giving up a bit of time and DNA can open doors with the information they can provide, to change the future. You can stop other women from getting breast cancer. It could save 45,000 who get it each year."

Last updated: 9:50am, August 27 2010