NEW YORK, May 8 (JTA) There’s finally good health news for Jewish women of Eastern and Central European descent.
A genetic mutation that links some Ashkenazi women to ovarian cancer makes these women more responsive to chemotherapy, according to a new study.
Patients with what are known as BRCA mutations who had advanced ovarian cancer lived about two years longer than patients in a similar stage of cancer without the gene, according to the study of 189 Jewish women.
The study was published in last week’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In addition, the time for recurrence of the disease in patients with the mutation was about 14 months, as opposed to seven months for those without the mutation.
Eighty-eight of the 189 women studied had the mutation.
The finding “could open up new possibilities of how to treat ovarian cancer,” said Jeff Boyd of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which conducted the 12-year survey, adding, however, that it had no immediate practical applications.
“It’s a paradox,” said Boyd. “The mutated gene is what leads to the cancer in the first place. But once it’s developed, it could be an Achilles’ heel for the tumor.”
The genetic mutations that are linked to breast and ovarian cancers are more frequently found among Jewish women of Ashkenazi descent than among the general population.
A 1997 study into the risk of breast and ovarian cancers among Ashkenazi Jews found that a person with the genetic mutations has a 56 percent chance of getting breast cancer, and a 17 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer by the age of 70.
Some 2 percent of Ashkenazi Jews carry the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations, according to the Human Genome Project in Washington.
The incidence of cancer among Ashkenazi Jews is not higher than among those in the general population, but more of their cancer risk stems from genetic factors.
Dr. Tammy Peretz, the head of the Sharrett Institute of Oncology at Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, welcomed the result.
The finding that cells with the mutated BRCA genes become more sensitive to therapy, suggested Peretz, may also be applicable to those women with one of the BRCA mutations who develop breast cancer as well.
A medical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., was less enthusiastic.
“It confirms what has been observed clinically,” Dr. Harry Long said, adding that he would like to see the study replicated because the group with the mutations received a more complete surgical removal of the tumor before receiving chemotherapy and that a higher percentage of patients in the non-BRCA group received an older form of treatment.
Long also said he would like to see the study performed on some of the other BRCA mutations present in non-Jewish women.
Despite his reservations, he said, “For people who feel they’ve been dealt a bad hand, it’s an indication that it’s not as bad as previously thought.”