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New study warns against linking ethnic identity to breast cancer genes

(New York, NY) -- Genetic research over the past decade has linked Ashkenazi Jewish ethnicity to an increased risk for hereditary breast cancer, so much so that certain gene mutations have become known as "Jewish ancestral mutations." But a new study released in the November issue of The American Journal of Public Health challenges this approach, warning that disparities in access to care and other unintended consequences can, and have, resulted.

The study, by Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons researchers, notes that while three recognized breast cancer mutations are present in 2-3 percent of the Ashkenazi Jewish population, similar prevalence studies have not been carried out in other ethnic groups. In addition, the study finds that research linking the breast cancer mutations with Ashkenazi Jews has been beset by methodological problems that cast doubt on the use of ethnicity as the basis for genetic research on disease.

"The linking of Ashkenazi Jews to a deadly disease raises serious scientific and social concerns," said co-author Sheila M. Rothman, PhD, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine. "Focusing genetic studies on a specific ethnic group confers disadvantages to that group and others. For Ashkenazi Jews it raises the risk of stigmatization and insurance or job discrimination. For other groups, it introduces a gap in access to testing and treatment."

The report cites examples of disparities that have occurred. For instance, Ashkenazi Jewish women have access to an inexpensive test that detects the mutations at a cost of $415 compared with $2,975 for non-Ashkenazi Jewish women without known family mutations. Other studies have found that Ashkenazi Jewish women with family histories of breast cancer are more than twice as likely as other women at similar risk to undergo testing for suspect genes.

Rothman and her coauthors interviewed 30 genet
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Contact: Janet Firshein
301-652-1558
Burness Communications
26-Oct-2006


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