JScreen, a national public health initiative based out of Emory University School of Medicine's Department of Human Genetics, announced a new program earlier this month to offer at-home testing for over 60 genes associated with hereditary risks for breast, ovarian, prostate, colorectal, skin and other cancers.
The program uses highly accurate testing with state-of-the-art genetic sequencing technology that also looks for genes that are actionable, meaning something can be done to help prevent cancer if the gene is found. Licensed genetic counselors provide information to those being screened via phone or secure video conferencing to help them understand their results.
Up until the new program was announced, JScreen focused on reproductive carrier screening for diseases such as Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis. Thousands of participants have been tested and high-risk couples have been provided with information on how to have healthy children.
Jews from around the US told JScreen that they were interested in genetic cancer risk testing due to concerns that Ashkenazi Jews have a 1-in-40 risk of carrying mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – over 10 times the risk in the general population.
JScreen and Emory's Winship Cancer Institute launched the Atlanta PEACH BRCA pilot study in July 2019 to assess interest in the testing by offering at-home BRCA testing to eligible Ashkenazi Jews age 25 and older.
Over 500 eligible participants took part in the study in less than six months. The study confirmed that at-home cancer risk genetic testing for BRCA and other cancer susceptibility genes is possible.
"Making cancer genetic testing accessible is key,” Jane Lowe Meisel, MD, Associate Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine, and medical director for JScreen’s cancer program, said in a press statement. “This type of testing is important because it alerts people to their risks before they get cancer. They can then take action to help prevent cancer altogether or to detect it at an early, treatable stage.”
“I never even thought to get screened until I learned about JScreen’s study in Atlanta last year,” said Karen Smerling, a 62-year-old city resident. “After I underwent screening, I found out I was BRCA2 positive. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy before cancer could possibly come my way. JScreen did indeed save my life and can do so for others who take the first steps toward genetic testing.”
“Knowledge is power. With an understanding and awareness of their cancer risks and available options, individuals can work with their health-care providers on next steps,” said Karen Arnovitz Grinzaid, MS, CGC, Assistant Professor of Human Genetics at Emory University School of Medicine, and JScreen’s executive director. “Launching our new cancer program and providing convenient and affordable access to cancer genetic testing will help save lives. We are thrilled to bring this important resource to the Jewish community.”