On January 25, the Basser Center for BRCA, UJA-Federation of New York, and the 92nd Street Y teamed up in New York City to present a panel on BRCA mutations and the latest lifesaving information surrounding hereditary cancers. Moderated by Joan Lunden, the panel included Basser Center Executive Director Susan Domchek, MD, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Mark Robson, MD, community educator Nicole Schreiber-Agus, PhD, and author and breast cancer advocate Elizabeth Wurtzel. The discussion primarily focused on the importance of education, awareness, and genetic testing.

Joan Lunden repeatedly stressed that knowing about your family history and genetic risk is empowering and can save your life or the life of someone in your family. The question of genetic testing was a recurring subject, though the panel explored a number of factors that can make testing difficult: a lack of education, financial obstacles, insurance, and so on. Lunden raised the issue that whether or not insurance covers genetic testing is far from the only barrier. Dr. Robson said, “What about stigma? Some people just don’t want to know.”

Much of the conversation centered on the increased risk of BRCA mutations for people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent – which is 1 in 40, compared to 1 in 200 for the general population – but Susan Domchek stressed that BRCA mutations affect all communities. She said, “There is not a race or ethnicity that has not seen BRCA mutations. [Knowing your] family history is really important." Dr. Domchek also explained that this is not solely a woman’s issue; men can also inherit and pass down BRCA mutations and get related cancers, including breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer, among others. Domchek said, “Men get breast cancer too and it can be a difficult experience for a lot of reasons.”

Nicole Schreiber-Agus explained why she got tested for a BRCA mutation and highlighted the importance of individuals knowing their own risk for heredity cancer, but also said that it’s important to educate family doctors, so that they can recommend genetic testing and genetic counselling to appropriate patients. Drs. Domchek and Schreiber-Agus discussed the importance of having a genetic counselor help with the process of genetic testing, which is a critical component of the management of risk and preventative care for individuals with BRCA mutations. This also includes regular screening and possible preventative surgeries. Dr. Domchek explained that getting testing is becoming easier and has changed for the better in recent years. “Genetic testing costs are falling and many efforts are underway to help individuals know they should be tested for BRCA gene mutations." Drs. Domchek and Robson also returned to the point that researchers and physicians are constantly making strides to do better and increase options for testing, education, preventative care, and cancer treatment.

If you couldn’t be there in person, view the Facebook album here or read more about the event at Cure Magazine.