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Breast Cancer and the Jewish Peoplehood: What to Know

Every year, the United States recognizes October as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). As the month comes to a close, here are five facts regarding breast cancer awareness and the Jewish peoplehood to keep into account all year long.

1. Ashkenazi Jewish women have an increased genetic susceptibility to breast cancer.

Research supports that Ashkenazi Jewish women stand at an increased risk of contracting breast cancer in their lifetime. This stems from hereditary genetic mutations, specifically the BRCA1/2 mutations. According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, women with the BRCA1 gene mutation have between a 55 and 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70, whereas those with the BRCA2 mutation have about a 45% chance. This varies greatly compared to the average risk among women of developing breast cancer risk by age 70, which is about 8 percent. Overall, about 10% of Ashkenazi Jewish women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. have a BRCA1/2 mutation.

2. The genetic mutation is linked to Ovarian Cancer in women, too.

Between one in 400 and one in 800 Americans have a BRCA mutation. The Susan G. Komen Foundation also reports that while the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer falls less than 2%, BRCA1 carriers have a 35-70% risk, whereas BRCA2 carriers have a 10-30% risk.

3. The prevalence doesn’t discriminate based off of gender, either.

Although rates of male breast cancer pale in comparison to female breast cancer, Ashkenazi Jewish men too are at risk. Among both Ashkenazi Jewish men and women, about one in 40 have a BRCA 1/2 mutation.

4. We’re making progress, especially thanks to the nonprofit world.

Nonprofits are doing an incredible job in expanding both breast cancer awareness. Sharsharet, for example, was founded by Rochelle Shoretz, a breast cancer survivor and a former Law Clerk to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She created the organization to tailor to the specific vulnerability of young Jewish women to the disease. Sharsheret has since offered support to tens of thousands of young Jewish women and their families fighting breast cancer.

5. Early detection saves lives.

Through yearly mammograms, in addition to self- exams, early detection is possible. In fact the earlier breast cancer is found, the likelihood a treatment will work. With the new year in full swing, we tend to think in reference to tikkun olam (heal the world) and how we can play our part to make this year better than the last. However, I ask you - how can we heal the world if we don’t heal ourselves? If you identify as an Ashkenazi Jew, I challenge you to put meaning in this year’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month by protecting yourself against breast cancer.

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