Until about a decade ago, it was thought that Ashkenazi women were at higher
risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer (and a small number of Ashkenazi
men got breast and prostate cancer) due to a BRCA gene mutation.
mutations for Jews originating from Iraq, Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan were
discovered as well, proving that Sephardim can be at risk as well.
Hadassah genetic researchers have discovered two “founder” gene mutations that
can cause breast and ovarian cancer in Jewish women whose families were expelled
from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497, wandered into Italy, Bulgaria, Turkey
and Yugoslavia, and today live in Israel and abroad.
Dr. Michal Sagi of
the genetics and metabolic diseases department of Hadassah University Medical
Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem and colleagues have published their findings in
a recent issue of the journal Familiar Cancer.
Sagi told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the mutation was found in six families (about 3 per cent). When only the very high risk families were examined, the mutations are found in 26% to 31% of them.
The families that were tested are descendants of Jews who lived in the Iberian Peninsula before the end of the 15th century. Such usually Ladino-speaking people are often called “Samech-Tet” for Sephardim Tehorim, or “pure Sephardim,” who originated in Spain more than half a millennium ago.
Because of a widely held assumption that Ashkenazi women are those
with the genetic tendency for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, many doctors
used to assume that patients of Sephardic background are not at risk. Then the
Sephardi mutations from Iraq, Yemen, Iran and Afghanistan were revealed. The
newest research, Sagi reports, shows that these are not the only Sephardim to
have a higher risk.
The test for the mutations is available so far only
at Hadassah’s genetic department, but Sagi has informed genetics advisers in
hospitals around the country so they can refer Samech-Tet patients for the test,
which is included in the basket of health services, as are all tests for
Those carrying the gene should be followed up regularly to detect
any cancer early and could decide to undergo prophylactic surgery to lower their
risk of becoming ill. Sagi said she expects other genetic institutes will
eventually be able to test for the mutations.
Breast and ovarian cancer
resulting from BRCA mutations often appears at a younger age than such cancers
that are not due to genetic mutations.
She suggests adding these
mutations to the five mutations included in “The Jewish Panel” of BRCA1/2
mutations being tested for in Israel.