Research has shown that people who carry mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (typically associated with breast and ovarian cancer) have a higher risk of several types of cancer, including the rare and deadly pancreatic cancer. While the proportion of specific harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations varies among individual racial and ethnic groups, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have been proven to have a higher prevalence of mutations in both genes. According to the National Cancer Institute, 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews, both men and women carry a BRCA gene mutation — more than ten times the rate of the general population, significantly increasing their risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
“I had no idea about the increased risk for pancreatic cancer for members of the Jewish community,” says Alan Kosten, Chairman of the Herb Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Charitable Fund and an active member of the Jewish community of faith Memphis, Tennessee. “The Kosten family and the Kosten Foundation have been advocating for greater awareness of pancreatic cancer ever since my brother, Herb, passed away from the disease in 2003. This news is something that really hits home for us and has made us take an even closer look at this disease, not just for ourselves, but for the many members of the Jewish community here in the Mid-South and other areas.”
Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths each year and, while it represents only two percent of all cancers, it is responsible for 40 percent of all cancer deaths. What makes pancreatic cancer challenging to treat is that people often do not recognize the symptoms until they are advanced.