Individuals with Jewish ancestry are six times more likely to carry a genetic fault

The NHS has announced the launch of a new BRCA gene testing programme to identify cancer risk early in individuals with Jewish ancestry.

People with Jewish ancestry are about six times more likely to carry a genetic fault, which can increase the risk of developing some cancers, than the general population.

Across the next two years, the national NHS Jewish BRCA Testing Programme plans to identify thousands more people carrying faults in the BRCA genes so they can seek early access to surveillance and prevention services.

In alignment with the health services drive to catch tumours earlier, when they are easier to treat, anyone over the age of 18 years with Jewish ancestry will be eligible to receive a simple genetic saliva test to look for the presence of BRCA1 or BRCA2 faults.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are the two genes that repair DNA damage and help to protect against cancer. However, for individuals who are born with a fault in one of these genes, their likelihood of developing certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer, increases.

The free genetic saliva test can be taken at home and then sent to labs for testing.

Thousands of people have already come forward for testing as part of the pilot phase of the programme and the national roll-out will see around 30,000 people tested.

Most recently, charities Jnetics and Chai Cancer Care have been running an engagement campaign to help raise awareness in Jewish communities and encourage individuals with Jewish ancestry to take a free test.

Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer, NHS England, said: “We want as many people as possible to take advantage of this testing programme.

“Most people won’t have an altered gene, but if [they] do, the NHS can provide [them] with further testing, surveillance or treatment as early as possible.”

Lisa Steele, chief executive, Chai Cancer Care, commented: “We can now harness developments in genetic screening to increase the chances of preventing the onset of cancer.”