NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Genetic testing can now tell us who is at increased risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers. But who should be tested? Are men at risk? What is the BRCA gene and what does a “positive” result mean?

These and other questions will be discussed by medical and genetic experts in a free public program, “Could You be at Risk for Hereditary Cancer?” at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, 222 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Sunday, May 7.

The program is being presented by the temple’s Caring Community Committee.

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Speakers will be: Dr. Thomas A. Bock, founder of HeritX, a global research and development organization focused on preventing inherited cancer, and a former practicing oncologist and researcher; Abby Grayson, a licensed professional counselor who is BRCA1-positive and a “previvor;” Dr. Deborah L. Toppmeyer, chief medical officer and director of the Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center and the LIFE Center at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (RCINJ) and chief of solid tumor oncology, and Hetal Vig, board-certified genetic counselor at RCINJ specializing in cancer genetics and assistant professor at RWJ Medical School. 

The BRCA mutation gained wide exposure in 2013 when actress Angelina Jolie announced she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her cancer risk because she carries the BRCA mutation linked to cancer in her family.

Since then, BRCA and other inherited mutations have been more widely discussed and reported on, yet confusion remains regarding risk and options for reducing it. Research shows that the BRCA 1 or 2 mutations occur in about 1 in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and 1 in 400-800 people in the general population.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the BRCA 1 and 2 mutations account for 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers and about 15 percent of all ovarian cancers. About 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer , while 55 to 65 percent of women who inherit the BRCA1 mutation and around 45 percent of women with the BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70. The mutations also raise the risk of ovarian cancer considerably and are associated with breast and prostate cancer in men, pancreatic cancer, melanoma and other cancers in men and women.

The program is coordinated by Rabbi Philip Bazeley of Anshe Emeth and Sandra Lanman of East Brunswick in memory of her daughter, Sheryl Lanman Nichols, who died of breast cancer at 34 in 2015.