Shaare Zedek Researcher Releases Study Recommending All Ashkenazi Women Be Tested for Cancer Genes

(Toronto – September 10, 2014) An international study, presented today at the annual Breast Cancer Symposium at Shaare Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel, is recommending that women of Ashkenazi origin over the age of 30, be tested for the BRAC1 and BRAC2 mutations, even if they do not have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

These recommendations are a result of findings in the new study by Professor Ephrat Levy-Lahad, Head of the Fuld Family Department of Genetics in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which will be published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We should be testing women who are still healthy at a stage when we can prevent the disease,” Dr. Levy Lahad said.

The study found that Ashkenazi women who tested positive for the genetic mutations during random screenings had high rates of breast and ovarian cancer – even when they had no family history of the disease. Many of the women identified by the researchers would never have known they were carrying the gene mutation, if not for the screening offered by the study, the researchers said.

The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes occur more frequently in Ashkenazi Jews than in the general population. About one out of every 40 individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene, as compared to one out of every 800 members of the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In 1997, researchers at Shaare Zedek, under the guidance of Professor Ephrat Levy-Lahad, discovered that one third of the cases of ovarian cancer in Ashkenazi women are due to inherited mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Since that time, these genes have also been proven to be linked to the occurrence of breast cancer.

Since the rate of breast cancer is higher among Israeli women, in 2013 Shaare Zedek opened the Comprehensive Breast Health Diagnosis Center,an all-inclusive facility for the identification and diagnosis of growths and tumors in the breast. The Center is directed by one of Israel’s premier breast cancer diagnostic experts, Dr. Selwyn Strano, who immigrated to Israel from South Africa over twenty years ago. This new Center of Excellence provides advanced and integrative treatment by utilizing a compassionate team of physicians, surgeons, patient-care coordinators and social workers who meet regularly while involving each woman and her family in their personal care plan, for a complete patient-centered focus.

Professor Ephrat Levy-Lahad’s Medical Genetics Department works in close collaboration with both the Breast Health Diagnosis Center and the Breast Surgery Unit and following today’s symposium, Professor Lahad will launch a new program called “Prevention Generation, along with the support of the Israel Cancer Association and the Northern Charitable Foundation. The program was established to increase awareness of the importance of making early genetic screening for breast and ovarian cancer and to assist in implementing such a program.

The Canadian Shaare Zedek Hospital Foundation recently embarked on a $1 million Breast Cancer Challenge Campaign to raise critical funds for equipment, research and education. The hospital does not receive funding from the Israeli government for these important initiatives.


Known as a “hospital with a heart” for over a century, Shaare Zedek Medical Center provides a continuum of care for over 500,000 patients annually. Located in the heart of Jerusalem, Shaare Zedek is the city’s fastest growing hospital and the only major medical facility in the city’s centre.  An academic health science centre fully affiliated with Hebrew University School of Medicine, Shaare Zedek is deeply committed to treating patients of every race, religion, nationality and political view with compassion for all human life.

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