Cancer Risk Assessment - Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage

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City of Hope's Cancer Screening and Prevention Program offers a comprehensive cancer risk assessment that focuses on family history and genetics, taking into account environmental and lifestyle factors. If indicated, patients can choose to use genetic testing to assist with identifying cancer-prevention strategies. Call 626-218-8662 for more information.

Specific BRCA gene mutations found in Ashkenazi Jewish individuals

Two specific mutations in the BRCA1 gene and one mutation in the BRCA2 gene occur predominately in persons of Ashkenazi Jewish descent whose ancestors come from eastern or central Europe. It is estimated that 1 in 40 Ashkenazi men and women carry one of these three mutations. About 90 percent of Jewish persons in the U.S. are of Ashkenazi descent.

Hereditary breast cancer

About five percent of all breast cancers and 10 percent of all ovarian cancers are associated with single-gene inherited changes (mutations), primarily in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Having a BRCA mutation predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer. Hundreds of different mutations in these genes have been identified.

Cancer risk

As with any woman who has a cancer-associated BRCA gene mutation, Ashkenazi women with one of these mutations have a significantly increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Studies indicate that the average lifetime risk associated with these three specific mutations is about 56 percent for breast cancer and 16 percent for ovarian cancer. This risk may be higher or lower, depending on a woman's personal and family history. Men who have a BRCA mutation also have an increased risk for cancer – about 6 percent for breast cancer and 16 percent for prostate cancer.

Testing for these three mutations

Most Ashkenazi Jewish persons tested for these mutations have a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or have a blood relative in whom testing has already identified a mutation. Because much is still unknown about cancer genetics, testing is not typically offered to the general population.

Testing is only one of the methods used to estimate cancer risk

Counseling and testing is a multi-step process that begins with assessing cancer risk based on personal factors and family history. This process also includes education and counseling to help understand risk, the usefulness and limitations of genetic testing and other means to assess risk, and individualized options for early detection and risk-reduction strategies. If testing is appropriate and desired, a small blood sample is drawn for analysis. A confidential test result is typically available within two to three weeks. Test results are disclosed in person at a follow-up visit.

Research studies

Ongoing research studies are a vital part of City of Hope's Cancer Screening and Prevention Program's commitment to combating cancer. We will inform you about available studies and eligibility to participate, which is entirely voluntary and will not affect your care in any way.


  • Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is the largest Jewish membership organization in the United States. Hadassah’s educational programs cover concerns relating to the science of genetics, counseling/psychosocial issues, discrimination and ethics from a Jewish perspective.
  • The American Jewish Congress - The Congress’ Commission for Women's Equality supports federal and state legislative campaigns to protect genetic privacy and prohibit genetic discrimination in insurance and employment.
  • Sharsheret provides resources and support for young Jewish women, of all backgrounds, facing breast cancer.

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