This month, as part of National Minority Health Month, we are highlighting those communities at high-risk for pancreatic cancer. The Ashkenazi Jewish community, like African Americans, have been disproportionately impacted by pancreatic cancer. Increasing awareness in these communities includes sharing information and providing resources. These tools empower not only high-risk communities but the pancreatic cancer community as a whole. When pancreatic cancer impacts one group, it impacts us all.
For decades scientists have investigated the BRCA1 & BRCA2 gene mutations and their connection to cancer. The Johns Hopkins National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry (NFPTR) has gained a better understanding of how BRCA1 & BRCA2 gene mutations account for a portion of the increased risk for pancreatic cancer for Ashkenazi Jews. According to their research, “The increased risk of pancreatic cancer associated with inherited BRCA1 mutations is estimated to be about two-fold (about the same increased risk associated with cigarette smoking)”. In addition, carriers of the BRCA2 gene mutations also have a ten-fold increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recommends genetic counselling for all individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The Hirshberg Foundation provides resources to encourage families, especially those with a high-risk ancestry, to learn more about how genetics play a role. Watch this Hirshberg Symposium video “Why Should I See A Genetic Counselor?”, presented by Wendy Conlon, MS, a genetic counselor at UCLA. Whether you are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry or not, genetic testing unlocks some answers to pancreatic cancer and is a resource worth exploring.