In May, 2013 Time magazine reported that Angelina Jolie had undergone bilateral mastectomies to prevent breast cancer. Men and women who knew little about the risks associated with the BRCA genes were shocked to hear that one of the most attractive women in the world would make such a decision. However, many women who had faced the same decision after being found to carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene fault, understood how difficult taking that step had been.
Photo: Gene Circle – Dr Mandy Goldman Strous, Dr Lesley Andrews, Isabelle Shapiro OAM
Women who carry a BRCA gene fault face a 70% risk of developing breast cancer and up to 40% risk of ovarian cancer. Each of these women will face decisions about breast screening, risk reducing medication, preventive surgery, menopause management. They will be confronted with having to talk about their genetics to other relatives, and most poignantly, to their children.
For many such women, they will know no-one who has been through the same experience, raising feelings of isolation. The National Council of Jewish Women Australia NSW, together with Dr Lesley Andrews, head of the Prince of Wales Hospital Hereditary Cancer Clinic, is addressing that void by launching Gene Circle, a support group for Jewish women who carry a BRCA gene fault. This group will enable women to share their experiences and be updated on current information, supported by Dr Mandy Goldman Strous, a retired oncologist and president of Cancer Counselling Professionals and Isabelle Shapiro OAM, board member of NCJWA NSW.
Within 3 months of Angelina’s article, genetic clinics around the world, including here in Australia, were seeing 3 times as many people for BRCA testing. Without knowing her personally, women felt empowered by having Angelina as a role model for having BRCA genetic testing. With Jenescreen now enabling any Jewish woman to have genetic testing, the NCJWA Gene Circle will now provide Sydney Jewish women who carry a BRCA gene fault with a safe, confidential environment to deal with their results, supported by others who, like Angelina, have faced those same decisions before them.