Fisher Center Raises Awareness about Hereditary Cancer in Jewish Community

Posted in GUMC Stories

Just in time for the Jewish High Holy Days in September, the Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer launched an educational mail campaign to emphasize the importance of cancer genetic counseling and testing among the Jewish community in the Washington metropolitan area.

The Fisher Center’s efforts were part of a broader campaign led by the Basser Research Center for BRCA, part of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Basser reached out to over 1,500 synagogues across the U.S. to raise awareness about hereditary breast/ovarian cancer in the Ashkenazi Jewish population.

The Fisher Center linked with this effort but focused its efforts locally, sending information about genetic counseling and related services to more than 60 synagogues and Jewish organizations in Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry – descendants from Eastern or Central Europe – have a one in 40 chance of carrying a mutation in the genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. According to the Basser Research Center for BRCA, this is at least 10 times higher than that of the general population. 

Women who carry mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have up to an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer and up to a 45 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer.  Men can also carry and pass these genetic mutations on to their children.

“Even though there is already a lot of awareness in the Jewish community about BRCA testing, we wanted to emphasize the importance and availability of comprehensive genetic counseling so that people can make informed decisions before and after testing,” said Beth N. Peshkin, MS, CGC, senior genetic counselor and education director of the Fisher Center. 

As the largest clinical research program in the Washington area, the Fisher Center comprises certified genetic counselors, physicians and psychologists who provide state-of-the-art genetic counseling and testing and related research studies.

In October, the Fisher Center will be a sponsor of the local premiere of the movie Decoding Annie Parker, about the search for the BRCA genes. In addition, Peshkin will participate on an Oct. 9 panel at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington titled, “Hereditary Cancer in the Jewish Community: What You Need to Know.”

The panelists will discuss who should consider genetic counseling and testing, pros and cons of different testing approaches, medical options, insurance concerns and psychological implications.

Peshkin says these types of outreach activities are a priority for the Fisher Center. “These events provide a great opportunity to interact with our community and respond to the concerns that are most pressing for individuals who are worried about their or their relatives’ risks of cancer.  To be informed and proactive can be very empowering,” she says.

For more information regarding Fisher Center events please visit:

About the Jess and Mildred Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research

The mission of the Jess and Mildred Fisher Center for Familial Cancer Research, established in August 2006, is to conduct state-of-the-art research on the prevention, treatment and management of familial cancers in order to improve the medical and quality of life outcomes of women and men at risk for cancer.  In addition, the Center is committed to research aimed at identifying and integrating genomic information to provide more precise and individually tailored cancer risk estimates and therapies.

By David Blanco, GUMC Communications

(Published September 18, 2013)