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 2006 issue of The American Journal of Public Health challenges this population-based approach, warning that disparities in access to care and other unintended consequences for specific ethic groups can result, and may have already occurred.
The study, conducted by Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons researchers, notes that while three recognized breast cancer mutations are present in two-three 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, Ph.D., professor of sociomedical sciences at the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. "Focusing genetic studies on a specific ethnic group may confer disadvantages to that group and others. This finding in Ashkenazi Jews 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 the test 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 t
Contact: Elizabeth Streich
Columbia University Medical Center