Hereditary Cancer for people of Ashkenazi Jewish Ancestry

Hereditary cancer is a risk that people with an Ashkenazi (Central or Eastern European) Jewish background should be aware of. This is because gene changes linked to some cancers are more common in the Ashkenazi Jewish community than the general population.

These changes (mutations) are in the BRCA genes. They are seen more in people with Ashkenazi Jewish background (see the figure below). People who carry a BRCA genetic mutation have a higher chance of developing some types of cancer. Men and women with the gene mutation can pass the changed genes to their children.

Researchers have found there are three main BRCA gene mutations in people with Ashkenazi Jewish background. This is different to the general community which has hundreds of different BRCA mutations that can cause cancer.

BRCA mutations occur in 1 in 40 people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, compared with the general population who have a 1 in 400 chance of carrying a BRCA mutation. People who carry a BRCA genetic mutation have a higher risk of developing cancer. 

Knowing your risk

If you are of Ashkenazi Jewish decent, it is a good idea to talk with your family about health and cancer history. We understand this can be a challenge. You can find some tips to start the conversation here. You can use this resource to help you map your family’s health history. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with breast, ovarian or prostate cancer, learning more about your genetic background can affect surgery or treatment options.

Having this genetic information can help you and your family make important decisions about how to manage any cancer risk. This includes:

  • how to lower your chances of getting cancer,
  • what sort of check-ups can help find cancer early,
  • what this means for children you might have.

Genetic testing

After you have investigated your family health history, you may want to talk to your healthcare professional about genetic testing. If you want to learn more about gene mutations, you can read our FAQs.

Finding Support

Pink Hope has many community members with an Ashkenazi Jewish background.

You can also read about some of our Jewish community members and their cancer experiences

More community information and resources

Sharsheret is a trusted organisation for information and support.

Resources for Healthcare professionals

‘Do you know your risk?’ Ashkenazi Jewish patient poster (option 1) 
‘Do you know your risk?’ Ashkenazi Jewish patient poster (option 2)