Basser Research Center for BRCA

News and Events

For news on BRCA and the Basser Research Center, read the blog posts below, straight from the Abramson Cancer Center's Focus-on-Cancer blog featuring updates on the Basser Center and BRCA1 and BRCA2 stories in the news.

Check out past issues of the BRCAbeat, the Basser Center's quarterly e-newsletter, and sign-up here!

If you are interested in events at the Basser Research Center for BRCA, visit our Basser events listing page here.

For related events at the Abramson Cancer Center, visit ACC events listing page here.


Tattoos: The Last Step in My Journey to Wholeness

In this guest post from her own personal blog, Jane reflects on her choice to get nipple and areola tattoos as part of breast reconstruction following a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a straight arrow. Growing up, I kept my room neat, did my homework and chose as my friends similarly minded. I did what I was supposed to do, completed what I started, wore little makeup, didn't get my ears pierced until middle school, and never, ever considered getting a tattoo.

Fast-forward four decades.

Not much about my personality has changed, but I do have two tattoos, and when they faded to the point that they were nearly invisible, I chose to have them redone. Don’t bother looking for a decorative rosebud on my shoulder, an alluring bird behind my ear or an inspiring phrase in Latin inked down my spine, however. You won’t find any such tattoos on my skin. In fact, it’s not likely that you’ll ever see my tattoos at all.

That’s because I chose to get nipple and areola tattoos as the final step in the reconstruction of my breasts after I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy several years ago.

Like Angelina Jolie, I’d tested positive for a BRCA gene mutation, and this genetic defect – which is 10 times more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews than in the general population – significantly increased my lifetime risk of developing breast, ovarian and several other types of cancer.

I always knew I’d get the tattoos – so much so that I never even considered not getting them, despite my straight-arrow personality. They were a part of the plan from the beginning, relieving me of the need to research and ponder all the options; list the pros and cons of each; and think, rethink and over-think my decision a thousand times. I’d already done all of that in making the choice to have the prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction in the first place.

All told, I had three separate surgeries over the course of 18 months.

Individually and collectively, they took a tremendous toll on my body and on me, and the scars – both physical and emotional – remain. Although they continue to heal a bit each day, I’m not sure they’ll ever fade completely.

15 months after the last surgery, my body finally was ready for the tattooing. Once the tattoos healed, I could hardly believe the incredible power they had to transform my transplanted tissue mounds into breasts. For the first time since my mastectomy, my “faux” breasts looked like real breasts, and my body looked complete. More than transforming my breasts or completing my body, my tattoos restored the rest of me – my spirit, my soul, my deepest self – to wholeness.

Although I will never again be the person I was before my BRCA test, I’m still a straight arrow – with tattoos. Every day, they remind me of the strength and courage it took for me to change my life’s course to ensure that my genetics would not dictate my destiny. My tattoos remind me, too, that the path I’m on is the right one for me, that I’m lucky to be where I am, and that the same strength and courage that helped guide me on that journey to wholeness continue to guide me today.

Jane E. Herman, is a BRCA2 mutation carrier and volunteers as an Outreach Coordinator for FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered in New York City and blogs regularly about her BRCA journey and other slices of her life at JanetheWriter Writes…  Read more »

Basser Center's BRCAbeat Reflects on Making a Difference

As the summer begins to quiet down, the Basser Research Center for BRCA's e-newsletter takes a look back at the progress made since its establishment in 2012. This edition highlights the 2012-2014 Honor Roll, the Basser Center Progress Report and installation of the Homologous Hope sculpture.



The Center was created through the visionary philanthropy of Mindy and Jon Gray and is leading the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers. The collective support of many generous individuals has ensured that the vital resources are in place to help our researchers accelerate bench-to-bedside implementation of critical discoveries, bringing hope to patients and their families.
  • 2012-2014 Honor Roll - Basser Research Center for BRCA: View the Basser Center Honor Roll to see the many individuals who are helping to lead the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers.
  • Basser Center Progress Report: View the Basser Center Progress Report to read about advances in research, education and outreach for the many individuals living with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations.
  • Homologous Hope Video: Watch a time-lapse video installation of the Homologous Hope sculpture, the large-scale piece designed especially for the Basser Center by internationally renowned artist Mara G. Haseltine.
Join our many generous donors by making a gift to the Basser Research Center for BRCA. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by BRCA-related cancers.


Subscribe to the BRCAbeat for quarterly e-newsletter updates covering BRCA news, research, philanthropy and scientific breakthroughs. 
Read more »

Accentuate the Positive: Eva Moon at the Joining FORCEs Conference

More than 700 individuals facing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer gathered at the Philadelphia Marriott for the 2014 Joining FORCEs Conference held by Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered in partnership with Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, performer Eva Moon spoke at the 2014 joining FORCEs Conference last month, integrating humor with the otherwise serious topic of hereditary cancer.

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is often caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increase risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers.

Moon, who carries a BRCA1 mutation, uses humor as a method to cope with tough times. She performs a one-woman musical about her journey with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

At the conference, Moon shared her personal story, tips for finding humor in daily life, and engaged the audience with a number of songs and activities.

"I cried rivers of tears," she said. But she fought back and underwent a series of major preventative surgeries. Post-recovery, Moon harnesses humor for coping with hard times, and she is teaching others to do the same.

"Humor can relieve stress and speed healing," she said.


Read more »

Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA Presents at ASCO 2014

Early this summer, oncologists from around the world gathered to hear cutting-edge scientific presentations showcasing new findings in oncology at the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Investigators from Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA presented on a range of topics related to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. 

Multiplex Testing

Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, presented on 'multiplex testing" for hereditary cancer risk. Historically, individuals with family histories of cancer were told about the individual genes that may be at the root the family’s history of cancer.

For example, a 40-year-old woman with breast cancer whose paternal grandmother also had the disease might be advised to consider BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing. Similarly, a 25-year-old woman with breast cancer might be offered testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 but also a gene called TP53 associated with much younger breast cancers.

Now, in 2014, multiplex or “panel” testing allows a healthcare provider to offer individuals testing for genes which have a predisposition to cancer all at once. This commercially available test has brought opportunities and challenges to the world of cancer genetics for patients and providers alike. ASCO 2014 highlighted the divergent opinions on the new technology.

To learn more:

Breast Cancer Worry in Teens

Families with BRCA mutations or unrelated histories of breast cancer often wonder how this history can impact their girls as they grow into young adults.

Basser Investigator, Angela Bradbury, MD, has devoted her career to studying these issues and discusses her abstract on worry and behavior among teens at higher risk for breast cancer.

To learn more:

Side Effects of Risk-Reducing Salpingo Oophorectomy

For women who carry BRCA mutations, in is standard practice to discuss preventative removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes between ages 35 to 40 or after child-bearing is complete.

These discussions inevitably lead to concerns about the potential impact of the procedure, which is called risk-reducing salpingo oophorectomy.

To learn more about Susan Domchek MD's research, you can read her interview with MedPage Today or see the Penn Medicine News Release.

For hereditary breast and ovarian cancer information, support, and research opportunities, visit Basser.org
Read more »

A Pub, A Drug, and A Basser Global Prize Winner

“I met a bloke in a pub and he offered me some drugs,” explains Alan Ashworth, FRS in his keynote address at the Basser Research Center for BRCA’s second annual symposium, where Ashworth received the Basser Global Prize for his contributions to BRCA-related research.

It turns out the bloke was a DNA-repair researcher and the drug was Olaparib. Olaparbib is a PARP inhibitor, part of a class of experimental medications that have been developed to target the genetic defect present in cancers associated with heritable BRCA mutations. Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA focuses exclusively on BRCA1 and BRCA2, and PARP inhibitors were a hot topic at this year’s symposium, which over 200 healthcare providers and scientists attended.

Ashworth Accepts the Basser Global Prize

In his acceptance speech for the Basser Global Prize, Ashworth described the history of the field, sketching out how the BRCA genes were cloned and detailing how an evolving understanding of basic biology led to the development of so-called targeted therapies that exploit the inherent deficiencies of BRCA-related cancers.

As he spoke about the BRCA genes and proteins, Ashworth pointed key parts of the protein apparent in the actual Basser Global Prize trophy, which features a blown-up version of part of BRCA2, etched into a large crystal block atop a purple LED light that made the prize glow as Shari and Len Potter presented it to him.

Symposium and Basic Science Research Bring Hope for the Future

In addition to targeted therapies for BRCA-related cancers, the symposium shed light on the basic science research that is so crucial to developing new targets for early detection and therapy, as well as clinical issues of tumor sequencing, breast cancer screening, and breast reconstruction.

With hope for approval of PARP therapy, increasingly accessible sequencing technologies, and the landmark founding of the Basser Research Center for BRCA, the conference had a hopeful air, with Ashworth commenting that “the Basser Center is a fantastic new initiative…I believe there is going to be great discoveries made here, along with colleagues around the world, Read more »

BRCA Beat: 2014 Spring/Summer Issue

As Spring sets in, Basser's quarterly e-newsletter reports on the annual Basser Center Scientific Symposium, Research Updates, Upcoming Events and highlights Partner in Hope Shari Basser Potter, whose generous gift funds the Basser Global Prize:

When the Basser Research Center for BRCA was established in 2012, in honor of Read more »

I Got All My Sisters With Me

Jane E. Herman, a BRCA2 mutation carrier volunteers as an Outreach Coordinator for FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered in New York City and blogs regularly about her BRCA journey and other slices of her life at JanetheWriter Writes… 

Looking forward to the 8th Annual Joining FORCEs Conference in Philadelphia, June 12-14, Jane reflects on her time in college and a recent patient education and support conference:

A generation ago at this season, I attended a number of sorority semi-formals at my alma mater. At the time, the school Read more »

Penn Study Reveals Breastfeeding, Birth Control Pills May Reduce Ovarian Cancer Risk Among BRCA Carriers

Research has shown that women carrying BRCA mutations are at increased risk for ovarian cancer, with a 10-45% risk of developing the disease over the course of their lifetimes compared to the average 1-2% chance.

As a result, both BRCA carriers and their health care providers frequently ask about other factors that may impact ovarian cancer risk for the already high risk population.

"Heredity is Not Destiny"

Towards that end, a group of researchers at Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA investigated factors that may impact or modify ovarian cancer risk in BRCA carriers.

In their meta-analysis of 44 peer-reviewed articles, Penn researchers found that breastfeeding, tubal ligation- also known as having one's "tubes tied," and oral contraceptive use may all lower the risk of ovarian cancer for some women with BRCA mutations.

Lead author and Basser-funded investigator, Timothy R. Rebbeck, PhD explains that "our analysis reveals that heredity is not destiny, and that working with their physicians and counselors, women with BRCA mutations can take proactive steps that may reduce their risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer."

Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA and co-author on the new paper adds, “It’s imperative that we continue examining and building upon past research in this area so that we can provide BRCA mutation carriers with options at every age, and at every stage of their lives.”

Read more »

Twenty Years Later: How Breast Cancer Risk Genes are Changing Patient Care

BRCA1 and BRCA2, the genes implicated in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, have become common parlance, especially since Angela Jolie’s May 2013 disclosure of her genetic mutation and subsequent mastectomy. This has not always been the case - just twenty years ago, these genes were being discovered.

In a “Perspective” article featured in Science Magazine, Dr. Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, Director of Genetics and a funded investigator at the Basser Research Center for BRCA, explains how far we have come in respect to genetic assessment of risk for breast cancer.

“A woman’s risk of breast cancer is still very much tied to family history, but it’s not just about their mother or grandmother; it’s about their father and his family history, too, and the population groups an individual’s family belongs to,” said Dr. Nathanson.

"Twenty years of research has provided a lot more information about these risk factors, which helps us to more effectively counsel patients about their own cancer risk and possible preventative strategies.”

Read about the past, present and furture of BRCA research in a Penn Medicine Press Release covering Dr. Nathanson’s article.
Read more »

Modern Healthcare Features the Basser Center’s Sculpture, Homologous Hope

Modern Healthcare, a leading source of healthcare business and policy news, research and information reports on the Homologous Hope sculpture, designed to honor the Basser Research Center for BRCA of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

Highlighting the sheer size of the sculpture—900 pounds—and it’s fidelity to the actual form and function of the BRCA2 protein, Modern Healthcare emphasized artist Mara G. Haseltine’s desire to spin hope from science in article entitled Outliers: “The really BIG picture on cell repair.”

Read the full article here. Read more »

Double Mastectomies: What Price for Peace of Mind?

More magazine recently reported on the trend towards increased rates of double mastectomy, featuring an eye-catching image of a female torso with open circles dotting the bare chest instead of breasts which had been hollowed out from the statue. Investigating this trend towards mastectomy, the article extensively quotes Susan Domchek, MD, director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

While a proven method of decreasing breast cancer risk, mastectomy is not the only option for women at high risk for breast cancer who can also consider more rigorous breast cancer surveillance, medications to reduce risk, and oophorectomy, which if done pre-menopausally decreases breast cancer risk by 50 percent.

Read more and learn what else Dr. Domchek has to say.

Learn more about the Basser Research Center for BRCA. Read more »

The Basser Center’s Homologous Hope in Times Square

“DNA Comes Alive in Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA” reads a video billboard in a glittering Times Square, alerting New Yorkers to the exciting unveiling of the Homologous Hope Sculpture at the Basser Center.

Focusing on hereditary forms of cancer caused by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, the Basser Center now welcomes visitors with a nearly one-ton sculpture, replete with LED lights that glow through the glass walls of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine late into the night.



Modeled to resemble a portion of the BRCA2 protein responsible for the all-important function of DNA-repair that helps the body stop the development of cancers, an image of the sculpture lit up Times Square, pictured above.

Read more »

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer: Community Events


2013 was a record year for BRCA1/2 in the news. With Angelina Jolie’s op-ed on her BRCA1 mutation and decision to undergo double mastectomy and news coverage of the BRCA patent case, hereditary breast and ovarian cancer gained a lot of press, more so than ever before. But now in 2014, there is still a need to keep conversations active, since identifying increased cancer risk is necessary to benefit from increased surveillance and risk reduction measures.

Individuals with BRCA mutations have increased cancer risks, most notably breast and ovarian, that must be managed differently. Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA is actively working with Living Beyond Breast Cancer in to increase awareness of BRCA1 and BRCA2, with programming made possible from a Women of Vision grant from the Jewish Women’s Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

While BRCA1/2 mutations are more common in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, people of all backgrounds can have BRCA mutations.

Learn More About BRCA 

Want to learn more about whether you, friends, or family members are at risk for carrying a BRCA mutation?

Register to come to Main Line Reform on Sunday March 30th (link) or Tiferet Bet Israel on Sunday, April 6th (link).

Read more »

AP Quotes Basser Center Director Susan Domchek on Recent Oophorectomy Article

A recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology confirmed the importance of oophorectomy for BRCA carriers and suggested a need for early oophorectomy for women with mutations in BRCA1, one of two genes known to greatly increase risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The article’s take-home message was that women with BRCA mutations benefit from risk-reducing oophorectomy, which confirms earlier published findings.

This article suggested that BRCA1 mutation carriers should have their ovaries removed by age 35, while current guidelines indicate ovaries should be removed by age 35 to 40 for carriers of both BRCA1 and BRCA2.

In a recent Associated Press article, Susan Domchek, MD, director of Penn’s Basser Research Center for BRCA weighed in on the recent findings, stating the importance of weighing the ovarian cancer risk and option of risk-reducing surgery alongside other decisions in a woman’s life:
“Thirty-five isn’t necessarily a magic number,” Domchek said. “If you are talking to a woman who hasn’t yet finished having her kids, it’s a completely reasonable thing to discuss the low risk of ovarian cancer by age 40 in the context of the other decisions that she’s making in her life.” 

However, Dr. Domchek adds her message for BRCA1 carriers: “By age 40, I will be nagging you about this again.”

Read the AP article, and visit Basser.org for more on BRCA screening, support and education.
Read more »

New Art Installation Illustrates DNA Repair and Celebrates Hope for Patients and Families Carrying BRCA Mutations

Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA recently unveiled a sculpture that symbolizes the hope that the Basser Center brings to individuals and families affected by mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.


Created in a ribbon-diagram formation, the sculpture illustrates how a healthy cell repairs DNA that causes breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancers. It is an accurate depiction of the part of the BRCA2 gene responsible for DNA repair. The repair occurs in three stages, as illustrated by a light show within portions of the piece. Weighing more than 500 pounds, the sculpture has 600 LED lights and is suspended from a ring weighing nearly 400 pounds.


Read more »

Would You Shield Your Future Child From Cancer?

Of course we all would, if it were always straight forward. This is the title question of a recent Wall Street Journal Health segment online. Based on WSJ reporter Bonnie Rochman’s article on a family who used reproductive technology to avoid passing on a BRCA mutation to their children, the segment explores the issue of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer caused by mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.

BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are associated with greatly increased risks for breast and ovarian cancer; as well as moderately increased risk for prostate, melanoma, male breast, and pancreatic cancers.

What is Embryo Screening or Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)?

Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) is a special form of in-vitro fertilization (IVF). This can be an option for individuals who carry a known genetic condition and wish to greatly decrease the chances of passing it on to a child. PGD is also known as "embryo screening" and is performed in a laboratory. This procedure is used in combination with IVF to test embryos (fertilized eggs) for a specific genetic mutation, such as a BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation.

The testing is performed before transferring the embryo into the woman's womb. Only the embryos that test negative for the known mutation will be transferred. As the Wall Street Journal highlights, PGD for BRCA1 and BRCA2 and other diseases is a very personal decision and can be seen by many as controversial. Even the couple Rochman initially followed had different perspectives on using the technology.

BRCA Gene Mutation and Reproduction

The Basser Research Center for BRCA is actively researching the impact of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations on reproductive attitudes and behaviors. Basser researcher Clarisa R. Gracia, MD, MSCE is investigating the impact of carrying a BRCA mutation on fertility and reproductive decision-making.

“PGD is an option, so we tell patients about it,” says Rebecca Mueller, MS, CGC, CCRC, outreach coordinator for the Basser Center with a strong background in genetic counseling. “But it is a tentative conversation: We broach the topic, explain the option and let the patient take the lead. Some welcome the information and consider it an opportunity to end the pattern of cancer risk within their family. Others say that they or their kids may not be here had the testing been available and the conversation may end there.”

The Basser Research Center for BRCA aims to educate individuals who carry BRCA mutations about their options across the board. “Whether we are talking about genetic testing, cancer screening, prophylactic measures, treatment choices, or reproductive decisions, it is our goal to provide information and support to families facing BRCA” says Basser Center Director, Susan Domchek, MD.

Watch the Wall Street Journal piece online, 
and visit Basser.org for the latest in BRCA news, education and research.
Read more »

Equal Time

Jane E. Herman, a BRCA2 mutation carrier, is the executive writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She also volunteers as an Outreach Coordinator for FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered in New York City and blogs regularly about her BRCA journey and other slices of her life at JanetheWriter Writes…

Earlier today, I promised my sister I wouldn't use social media to check in at the endoscopy center. And I didn't.

However, I did not promise her I wouldn't blog about my experience, but don't worry, I'll spare you the gory details.

Nonetheless, if I'm truly going to advocate for cancer detection and prevention, I can't do it just for this test; I have to do it for colonoscopies too. (As a BRCA2 mutation carrier, I am at increased risk of several types of cancer besides breast and ovarian. These include pancreatic and primary peritoneal cancer, as well as melanoma. Although some early studies suggested a possible link between BRCA mutations and increased risk of colon cancer, it has not been confirmed in subsequent studies.)

Read more about Jane's experience, and her colon cancer screening experience on her blog. 
  Read more »

Basser Center Director quoted in Marketplace

Basser Research Center for BRCA Director Susan Domchek, MD was quoted in a recent Marketplace report on drug shortages. Dan Gorenstein reports on shortages in the supply of drugs for cancer and other conditions, quoting Dr. Domchek who says that this lack of medication puts patients at risk.
photo of Basser Research Center Director, Susan Domchek, MD
“It is a very difficult thing to explain to a patient, why you can’t get a very standard chemotherapy regimen because you don’t have access to the medication,” she says.



Read more »

Something Stronger Than Me - A Previvor Story

Katrina is an editor for a medical publication, and lived in South Jersey with her two daughters and husband. In January 2013, she found out that she is a carrier for the BRCA1 mutation. Katrina is returning to her writing roots by blogging through the experience as she weighs family planning, surgical measures vs. surveillance, and the impact all of it will have on her family. In her spare time, she practices yoga and spends time with her extended family.
“Pour me something stronger than me.” ~Nashville

I jotted that lyric down last season, not long after finding out about my BRCA gene. And it came rushing back when we went to see Decoding Annie Parker, a 2013 movie that tells the story of Annie Parker and Dr. Marie Claire King.

The movie looks at parallel journeys — that of Annie Parker, a woman dealing with a heavy family history of breast cancer, and Mary-Claire King, the geneticist who spearheaded the discovery of the BRCA mutations.

Parker’s personal and family history of cancer is eventually explained by a mutation in BRCA1. This  gene sequence Dr. King’s team studied led to the discovery of its role in increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

The realism with which they portrayed Parker’s chemotherapy treatments hit me in the gut. The swelling. The hair loss. The vomiting. The scarves. I’ve watched four women very close to me endure it. One still is enduring it. They were and are the strong ones. Not me.

Not long after, my friend posted this photo essay in which a photographer documented his wife’s battle with cancer. You can feel the heartache, almost touch the physical pain.

All of these things scared me. I thought, “I don’t know if I can be that strong. I don’t know if I can fight like they did.” I’m sure if it came down to it I would, but in the moment I only felt weakness. I wanted to schedule my preventive surgeries right then and there. As much strength as I knew it would take to follow through, it won’t be the strength I would need to go through chemo. To put my girls through watching me suffer in my fight.

Living with the BRCA Mutation

There are days I manage to forget the decisions weighing on my shoulders, but not for long.

It’s in the 3-day walk for breast cancercommercials. It’s in my bee necklace that my best friend sent me. It’s in the Pandora bracelet we gave my best friend for her 30th birthday that I now wear.

But it’s mostly at night - when I’m feeding and rocking my baby or reading stories to my toddler that I think about all the memories we have yet to make. It’s then that I wonder what kind of example I’m setting for them or what they will think someday when they understand. Or what kind of torture it will be to not pick them up in the days and weeks after my mastectomy. Or if they will poke and prod at my “foobs” and ask why I’m not soft and comfortable for nighttime snuggles any more.

I can only hope they have vague memories of the days or weeks that mommy wasn’t be able to pick them up and millions of fresh memories of the times I did, of the times I ran with them, danced with them from kitchen dance parties to their own weddings.

I cannot help but shed tears over the chance that I passed this on to one or both of them. I pray that they will have many more options than I have or that this won’t even factor into their lives. (And all of this emotional weight, all of these decisions don’t even factor in the debate of whether to have another child).

Knowledge is Strength

Some days I feel very much like the oncologist quoted in this amazing pictorial, Before Angelina:
“When I told my friends about my upcoming procedure, some of them looked at me like I was crazy, like it was a brutal mutilation. They told me to just wait and to see what happened, but I told them the idea of getting the breast cancer diagnosis and having chemo was something I couldn’t face. Maybe I was a coward, but I felt like at that point I still had a choice.
I see “Save the Tatas” a thousand times a day and all I can think is, “Take mine away. Save me from the tatas.” In many ways I’ve faced this reality head-on, but in many ways, I’m still trying to outrun it.

So my goal for this year is to continue to educate myself. For me, knowledge is strength when you feel you have none. And sometimes I’m more scared than strong.

Movies like Decoding Annie Parker and news stories like 
Before Angelina helped Katrina learn more about BRCA 
For a list of supportive resources, including top BRCA reads, visit Basser.org
Read more »

Basser External Research Grant Program Receives Additional Funding

Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the Basser External Grant Program, that focuses on projects designed to advance the care of individuals living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

Bringing Support to BRCA1/2 Research

The Basser External Grant Program has been made possible thanks to an additional $5 million donation from University of Pennsylvania alumni and Basser Center founders, Mindy and Jon Gray.

“As the nation’s only center solely devoted to research into the prevention and treatment of BRCA-related cancers, the Basser Research Center for BRCA is uniquely positioned to help fund team science and original ideas,” says Dr. Chi Van Dang, director of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

The grant program provides support for basic science, early detection, translational or clinical research and relevant to the study of BRCA1/2.

“This generous award by the Grays will help expand the mission of the Basser Center by allowing us to support innovative researchers outside of Penn and widen the circle of those who are working to find new ways to prevent and treat cancers associated with BRCA mutations,” says Dr. Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Research Center and the Basser Professor of Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center.

“There are many research teams doing exceptional work in BRCA1/2 research who are finding it difficult to compete for the shrinking pool of federal and foundation funding for biomedical research, and this program provides a new avenue to accelerate progress across the field.”

Recognizing and funding leaders in the field of BRCA research is a cornerstone of the Basser Center’s mission

Last year, the first Basser Global Prize was awarded to cancer biology and genetics expert Alan Ashworth, chief executive officer of the Institute for Cancer Research in London and leader of the Gene Function team in the ICR’s Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre.

As part of the award, Dr. Ashworth, a pioneer in efforts to develop therapies to target cancer cells that contain BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, will give the keynote address at the annual Basser Research Center for BRCA Symposium in May 2014.

In 2013, the Basser Center awarded its second year of grant funding—more than $2 million—to 19 Penn investigators representing a wide array of disciplines.

Read the official press release in full here. To learn more
about the Basser Team Science Award and Basser Innovation Award visit Basser.org.

Read more »

Direct to Consumer Genetic Testing: What’s all the Fuss?

A mother testing her adopted child’s genome...

A young woman learning from a spit-and-send test that she is at markedly increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer...

A reporter who sends samples to multiple direct-to-consumer genomics companies, each with unique and variable results...

These are just a few of the stories to surface around the recent warning letter sent by the US Food and Drug Administration to a Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) genomics testing company.

The warning letter stated that the company had not provided adequate evidence that the Personal Genome Service provides accurate assessment of disease risk. This news and related stories have popularized discussions that have been taking place within the walls of genetic medicine for quite some time.

“The variability of results from DTC testing is not exactly a new finding,” says Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA. “Starting around 2010, researchers have illustrated similar discrepancies by sending batches of samples to DTC companies and publishing the results. It is widely understood that each lab looks for slightly different genetic markers and may interpret the same data differently.”

What is direct-to-consumer genetic testing? What do the tests look for? What are the risks and benefits to this type of testing?

Basser Center genetic counselor Rebecca Mueller MS, CGC, CCRC explains.

Q: What is direct-to-consumer genetic testing?

Direct-to-consumer- or DTC- genetic testing is genetic testing that is arranged directly between a consumer and a company with no medical professional intermediary. Most of the companies provide saliva sample kits that are mailed in for genetic testing at a company laboratory.

Q: What conditions do DTC tests look for?

DTC tests have been marketed to test for everything from ancestry, to carrier status for recessive conditions, to disease risk, to paternity. Currently, the FDA is concerned about DTC testing for disease risk. These genetic tests for disease risk typically look at what we call SNPs or Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms.

Q: What exactly are Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs)?

These are small differences in the genome at specific places in the genetic code that are commonly found in people. Through studies of large samples of individuals, scientists have identified many, many SNPs that increase or decrease risk for different diseases within certain populations.

Q: Why do reported disease risks vary depending on the company doing testing?

Many things contribute to disease risk—not just genetics.  While we know that genetic variation contributes to disease risk, there are several reasons why results vary by laboratory.

First, many SNPs typically contribute to risk of any given disease and different laboratories may look at different SNPs.

Second, even if two laboratories are looking at the same SNP they may interpret results differently for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have different data about the baseline or average risk for a given disease in a particular population, and the increase or decrease in risk is based off of that data.

Regardless of what the genetic reports say, there are a few more things to consider: We have yet to define all the genetic variations that contribute to disease risks, so every test has important limitations. We also know that there are many non-genetic factors that affect disease risks significantly, so even a hypothetically perfect genetic test would have limitations. For example, you can lack genetic risk factors for obesity but still be obese.

Q: Are DTC companies doing BRCA testing?

It is important to understand that most DTC companies do not comprehensively sequence genes, meaning they cannot rule out the presence of a mutation with the same precision as the laboratories used in medical settings. For example, one company tested people’s samples for three specific mutations within the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that are commonly found in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, but the company did not provide comprehensive genetic testing (also called full sequencing) of the BRCA genes. Individuals might think they had negative BRCA1/2 testing, when in fact they had very limited testing that is insufficient for ruling out a BRCA mutation.

Q: Are SNP test results medically useful?

Many things contribute to risk for any given disease. Currently, family history and personal medical history and exposures are the best way to assess risk for many types of cancer. In some individuals, genetic testing of certain genes (not SNPs, but entire genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 and genes for hereditary colon cancer) can be very useful. These tests can be ordered by medical providers when indicated to shed more light on inherited cancer risk. Comprehensive testing of these genes is not available through DTC companies.

Interested in learning more? 
Genetic counselors at the Marian and Robert MacDonald Women’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program and the Division of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics provide risk assessment and genetic testing for a variety of conditions.
Read more »

BRCA Beat: 2014 Winter Issue

Herbert and Betty Adelman, supporters of the Basser Research Center for BRCA
Happy New Year from the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Basser's quarterly e-newsletter reports on donors Herbert and Betty Adelman, the latest in BRCA research, the announcement of the Basser External Research Grant, upcoming BRCA educational events, and other important center updates:

Herbert and Betty Adelman live in Virginia and first read about the Basser Research Center for BRCA in the New York Times. A 1952 graduate of the Wharton School and part of a family personally affected by the BRCA gene, Herbert and his wife Betty decided to come to Penn to learn more about the Center’s vision and research goals...


Read the whole Winter 2014 edition here:
BRCA beat eNewsletter
Read more »

What If...



Jane E. Herman, a BRCA2 mutation carrier, is the executive writer and editor at the Union for Reform Judaism. She also volunteers as an Outreach Coordinator for the New York City chapter of FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered and blogs regularly about her BRCA journey and other slices of her life at JanetheWriter Writes…

Two weeks ago, in the midst of staffing the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial Convention in San Diego, I ran into a friend of my mom’s. She introduced me to the woman she was with as “Diana’s daughter.” Proud to wear the title, I was sad, too, that a BRCA mutation she didn’t even know she carried had cut short my mom’s life. Yet again, she was missing a Biennial gathering and one of the things she loved most about them—connecting and reconnecting with so many friends and clergy in her beloved Reform Jewish family.

The next day, I got to do something about that.

No, of course I can’t bring my mom back, but I was honored to speak—together with Susan Domchek, MD and Rabbi Marci Zimmerman—in a BRCA awareness session entitled “Hereditary Cancer and the Jewish Community: Knowing Saves Lives.” The session was the outgrowth of last fall’s high holiday BRCA awareness campaign sponsored by the Basser Research Center for BRCA that originally was the brainchild of Ellen Perl, a congregant of Rabbi Zimmerman’s and a breast cancer survivor.

Following opening remarks and a brief introduction of the panelists, Dr. Domchek provided a science-based overview of BRCA mutations, which are 10 times more prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews than they are within the general population. In addition to breast and ovarian cancer, she discussed other cancers associated with these genetic flaws, as well as the mutations’ autosomal dominant pattern of inheritance, which means that if just one parent is a mutation carrier, each child has a 50% chance of inheriting it from that parent. Short videos, detailing a few real women’s BRCA stories rounded out her presentation.

Rabbi Zimmerman then spoke about the important role synagogues can and must play in raising awareness about BRCA mutations within the Jewish community, as well as the critical role of clergy and members in supporting other members and families who carry BRCA mutations, especially as they confront the physical and emotional challenges that can come with them.

Then it was my turn.

My BRCA Story


Ditching my prepared notes, I spoke from my heart, telling the group that my sister and I only learned the details about BRCA mutations because our mother died. Shortly after her death from exceedingly virulent triple negative breast cancer, with sparse knowledge of BRCA mutations on the periphery of our radar, we opted to pursue genetic counseling and testing—not only because she’d died from breast cancer, but also because her sister had previously been diagnosed with the disease many years earlier. (Thankfully, with a mastectomy and chemotherapy, our aunt is a sprightly 86 today!) Although my sister tested negative for a BRCA gene mutation, my results were positive for one of the three Jewish founder mutations carried by one in every 40 Ashkenazi Jews. (When she finally was tested last winter, our aunt, too, turned up positive. Her two grown sons—fathers to three young teens between them—have yet to be tested.)

What if, I wondered out loud, my mom had attended a Biennial session like this one six or eight or even 10 years ago? Would she have connected all the dots in our family, beginning with her father’s prostate cancer in the mid-1980s, a decade before the BRCA genes even were identified? Would her sister’s breast cancer—like her own, diagnosed relatively late in life—have raised a red flag? Would BRCA awareness have changed the trajectory of her life or others’ in our family, including mine?

What if, I wondered to myself — afraid even to formulate the thoughts in my head—we hadn’t been so lucky? Although my oncologist believes there may be some genetic factor protecting the BRCA-positive women in our family from early onset breast cancer, what if that factor, whatever it may be, wasn’t there? With virtually no indication that a mutation was lurking in our family’s genes, we might have lost our mother decades earlier, cheating her and us out of a whole lot of life and love. No less scary, I might have been forced to relinquish my previvor status to a non-prophylactic mastectomy or oophorectomy, radiation, chemotherapy or worse…

In my family, we can’t begin to answer these “What if’s.” But now, with my own risks well under control, these unanswered questions compel me to write blog posts such as this one and to tell and retell my story often. It is my hope that this work of my heart will bring much needed awareness to other families whose members may, unbeknownst to them, be harboring BRCA gene mutations. It is my hope, too, that this information will reach them long before a mother, a wife or a sister dies and the survivors are obliged to confront the painful “what ifs.”

About BRCA and Ashkenazi Jews


Even though the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are not BRCA mutation carriers and only five to 10% of all breast and ovarian cancers are caused by these mutations, it is important to know the possible signs of these hereditary cancers. These include a family member with:
  • Ovarian or fallopian tube cancer at any age
  • Breast cancer before age 50
  • Breast cancer in both breasts at any age
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer
  • Triple negative breast cancer
  • Male breast cancer

Other signs of HBOC syndrome include more than one relative on the same side of the family with any of these cancers:
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian or fallopian tube cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer

If you suspect that you or a family member may be affected by hereditary cancer caused by a BRCA mutation, you may wish to contact a genetic counselor, who is specially trained to assess individuals’ personal cancer risks and help determine appropriate risk management strategies. The National Society of Genetic Counselors can help you find genetic professionals in your area.

Read more »

"I Feel Like I've Beat Cancer." - Carlette, Breast Cancer Survivor

Growing up, cancer was a common topic in Carlette Knox’s household.

One of five daughters, Carlette’s mother was a two-time breast cancer survivor who eventually lost her fight with pancreatic cancer in 2011. Her father died of colon cancer, and many members of her family fought cancer in some form.

Yet when Carlette felt a lump in her breast in fall of 2009 at the young age of 34, she blew it off hoping it would go away on its own.

“At the time, my mother was going through treatment for pancreatic cancer, and I had a lot going on in my life,” she remembers. “Plus, I had already had a mammogram just a few months before, so I didn’t think it could be cancer.”

Six weeks later in December, when the lump hadn’t gone away, Carlette made an appointment for another mammogram that confirmed what she’d known deep down inside – she had breast cancer.

What Carlette didn’t know at the time, however, was that she was BRCA positive. Carlette carried a mutation on the breast cancer gene that made her predisposed to developing breast and ovarian cancer.

“My mother was diagnosed at the age of 35 and she experienced the devastating loss of her mother to this disease while growing up,” says Carlette who underwent BRCA mutation testing in 2010. “I also witnessed two of my aunts lose their battles with cancer. I knew firsthand the impact this disease had on the women in my family; the need to attack this diagnosis head on was evident.”

“I was introduced to the risk assessment program and with the help of a genetic counselor underwent testing to determine my cancer risks,” remembers Carlette. “When I learned I had a genetic mutation, I felt targeted. I don’t know why, I just took that diagnosis very personally – more so than my breast cancer diagnosis.”

However, that knowledge helped Carlette make the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, complete removal and reconstruction of her breasts, as well as an oophorectomy, removal of her ovaries to reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Carlette also underwent chemotherapy to treat the breast cancer she had already developed.

“Learning about BRCA put into perspective my risk of breast cancer recurrence and ovarian cancer. My decision to remove the non-impacted breast tissue was supported by clinical trial data as well as my personal experience," she says.

"Seeing the effects of this disease throughout generations of women in my family was not a tradition I was willing to keep. While the procedure to have my ovaries removed itself was minimally invasive, the decision was not without much emotional turmoil on the inside. In my mind, this would change my landscape as a woman at such a young age. Ultimately, after researching the effects of ovarian cancer, I embraced this option as a blessing not a curse."

Today, Carlette is physically and emotionally better than she could have ever imagined.

“I don’t look or feel like any of what I went through. It may sound a bit crazy, but I’m grateful for the journey. My faith is stronger and as a result of this life changing experience I’ve been able to embark upon yet another journey.”

Carlette has become an advocate for women with breast cancer and the BRCA mutation at “Life Worth Living.”

“Life Worth Living is the realization of my passion to raise awareness, empower and support those impacted by cancer and to broadcast the message of hope aspiring them to live,” says Carlette.

“Today, I feel like I have beat cancer. I did everything I could do from a care standpoint, and I want to give as much as I can, because I keep seeing younger women impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis. I want help women find their voice and tap into the hope of overcoming their diagnoses and treatments.”


Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center is leading the way in breakthrough cancer treatment. If you or someone you know has been touched by cancer, the power to find the Cure is Within.
Hear our stories and find out more today.
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New York Times article on Universal Screening for BRCA1/2 cites the Basser Research Center’s Jewish Outreach Campaign

Jewish Ashkenazi Outreach Program buttonJewish Ashkenazi Outreach Program buttonJewish Ashkenazi Outreach Program buttonJewish Ashkenazi Outreach Program Jewish Ashkenazi Outreach Program buttonBRCA mutations are much more common in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, making population screening worth consideration.

New York Times correspondent Roni Caryn Rabin reports on the issues associated with universal screening for BRCA mutations in Israel, noting the Basser Research Center for BRCA’s efforts to raise awareness of BRCA1/2 via a poster campaign in American synagogues.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care relevant to BRCA-related cancers.

Read more »

Dr. Susan Domchek, Basser Research Center for BRCA weighs in on BRCA Screening in the New York Times

Susan M. Domchek, MD
The Basser Research Center for BRCA’s Dr. Susan Domchek weighs in on a BRCA question and answer session for the New York Times article on BRCA screening in Israel.

BRCA mutations are more common in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, and carriers have increased risks for a variety of cancers, mainly breast and ovarian.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care relevant to BRCA-related cancers.
Read more »

Friend of the Basser Research Center for BRCA Helps Raise Awareness

Emmy-award winning Emily Frances hosts “a premier online parenting community providing parenting tips, valuable information, advice for new mothers and more.”

Emily recently blogged about the important work of college friend, Mindy Basser Gray who founded the Basser Research Center for BRCA with her husband, Jon Gray in 2012.

Read the post on Raising Cancer Awareness: Mindy Gray & The Basser Research Center for BRCA from How to Mom TV.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care relevant to BRCA-related cancers.

The breast cancer program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center helps you understand your options. Learn the facts and request a consultation today.
Read more »

Before Angelina: Portraits of Breast Cancer Previvors and Survivors in Time Magazine


Sandy Cohen, photo courtesy of Miller Mobley for TIME
In this series of stunning photos, Time Magazine features the many women who elected prophylactic double mastectomy long before the news of Angelina’s BRCA1 mutation and surgery broke in Spring 2013.

Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA works closely with many of the women featured, including Sandy Cohen, Karen Kramer, Lisa Schlager, and Diane Rose of Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) and Dr. Elizabeth Chabner Thompson of Best Friends for Life (BFFL Co).

See the photos and read the stories here.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA is dedicated to delivering cutting edge research in the basic and clinical sciences to advanced the care of individuals who carry BRCA mutations. Read more »

Learn About the Basser Research Center Through ShareWik

Have you heard of the Basser Research Center?

Until recently, neither had Jan. Even as a seven-year cancer survivor, she continues to learn about the available resources.

Jan Jaben-Eilon discusses how a friend introduced her to Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA over lunch. She encourages you, too, to get acquainted with the Basser Center.

Read her post on ShareWik, a website aimed at using the power of personal storytelling to engage, educate and inspire others about decisions that impact their health.

Read Jan's blog here. Read more »

Genetic Markers for Breast Cancer Can Be Passed Down On Father's Side


NBC News quotes the Basser Research Center for BRCA Director Dr. Susan Domchek in this piece on paternal transmission of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer risk. Breast Cancer Awareness month is an excellent time to gather your family history of cancer—on both mom and dad’s side-- and gain genetic counseling to determine if you may benefit from genetic testing and are at increased risk.

Read Sarah Lien’s story and watch the videos from NBC News here.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care relevant to BRCA-related cancers.

The breast cancer program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center helps you understand your options. Learn the facts and request a consultation today.
Read more »

BRCA and the Arts


What does classical music have to do with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer?

This fall at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, the fifth season of PREformances with Allison Charney begins, with funds raised benefiting The Basser Research Center for BRCA of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center and programs at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan that promote early detection of cancer and care for those living with breast and ovarian cancer.

Given that one in forty carrier individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carries a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, the series also plays an important role in educating the community about hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer.

PREformances affords celebrated classical musicians the opportunity to try out new concert repertoire in front of understanding audiences prior to performing it in major venues.

Read the Examiner article on PREformances and hear Allison Charney sing here.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn Focuses on BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA supports research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, harmful forms of which are linked to greatly increased risks of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The Center is named in honor of Mindy Gray’s sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at age 44.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA was established with a $25 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray.

Emphasizing outreach, prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship, the Basser Research Center for BRCA will contribute to all stages of research and clinical care relevant to BRCA-related cancers.

The breast cancer program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center helps you understand your options. Learn the facts and request a consultation today.
Read more »

Penn's Basser Research Center for BRCA Names UK Breast Cancer Researcher Alan Ashworth Winner of First Annual Basser Global Prize

The Basser Research Center for BRCA has announced the recipient of its first annual Basser Global Prize. The honor will go to cancer biology and genetics expert Alan Ashworth, FRS, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Cancer Research in London and leader of the Gene Function team in the ICR’s Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre.

The Basser Global Prize, a marquee component of the Basser Research Center for BRCA, was established by Shari Basser Potter and Leonard Potter to honor a visionary scientist who has conceptually advanced BRCA1 and BRCA2 related research that has led to improvements in clinical care.

Professor Ashworth’s laboratory focuses on using genetic principles to understand cancer biology and channel the findings into information to change the way patients are treated. His lab has been instrumental in the development of PARP inhibitor therapy, medications that are designed to target the genetic vulnerability of BRCA1- and BRCA2-related cancers.

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Basser Quoted on Marie Claire and MedCityNews for BRCA Expertise

The Basser Center for BRCA Research's executive director Susan Domchek, MD and Abramson Cancer Center genetic counselor Jacquelyn Powers made headlines this week as major news outlets turned to Penn Medicine for an expert opinion. Read the headlines and quotes below: 

Marie Claire interviewed Domchek for an article about BRCA and Jolie’s decision:

Angelina Jolie: I had a double mastectomy

"We know from our research that having a prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy is the most effective way to for women who carry BRCA1/2 mutations to reduce their risk of developing breast cancer, but that surgery does come with costs, especially around body image, which is understandably an important factor for women," says Domchek "That's why we're working to develop other ways to prevent cancer in these high-risk women — like vaccines and new medications — so that women someday have new, less invasive options." Read more at Marie Claire here.
Jacquelyn Powers was the go-to source for MedCityNews piece on Angelina Jolie’s decision to follow up her BRCA1 screening with a double mastectomy: Is Angelina Jolie’s Surgery a Logical Response to Genetic Test Results?
“I would say what is our gold standard is what’s in the family’s personal history that sets us down a certain path,” said Powers. “Women are more inclined to choose preventive surgery if they have lost someone close to them — that’s a big factor.” Read more at MedcityNews.com here.


For the latest information on BRCA research, 
screening and clinical trials from 
The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
visit the official webpage.
Read more »

Does Insurance Cover BRCA Genetic Testing?


Last week’s op-ed piece by Angelina Jolie has brought to the forefront BRCA testing, and choices women make regarding their BRCA status and preventative measures against breast and ovarian cancer.

It also raises the question: Is BRCA testing only for men and women who are of means? Who can afford genetic testing for BRCA?

Is BRCA testing covered by insurance?

BRCA testing is usually covered by insurance if the patient meets certain criteria. There are different types of BRCA testing, ranging in cost from $475 to $4000. Genetic counselors are helpful in determining what type of testing is indicated. Testing is less expensive once a mutation has been identified within a family.

Insurance coverage and criteria varies by insurance plan, and genetic counselors are excellent at determining whether insurance is likely to cover the testing. Insurances more readily cover testing of people with a personal history of cancer and ideally, testing in a family starts in an individual who has had a BRCA-related cancer at a young age.

This first person to undergo testing in the family has complete sequencing of both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. This costs about $3300 and if no mutation is found, an additional $700 test looking even more closely at both genes may be necessary. For individuals of Jewish ancestry, a simpler test can often be performed that looks at just the common BRCA mutations within that population, for a cost of $575. Lastly, once an individual in a family test positive, other family members typically only require testing for a single mutation which is a simpler test that costs about $475.

There are also options for individuals who lack insurance coverage of genetic testing. Uninsured individuals may be eligible for free testing via the laboratory. Under-insured individuals can apply for financial assistance through an organization called Cancer1Source and depending on where they are tested, may have access to institutional earmarked charity funds.

Another insurance question that often arises is whether a positive result will make it harder for an individual to get health insurance. Legislation passed in 2008 bars discrimination based on genetic test results for the majority of health insurance companies and plans. This legislation extends to protect people from discrimination based on genetic test results in the realm of employment. It is important to note that no such protections are in place for things like life and long-term disability insurance, so some consider putting these in place before testing is performed.

Learn more about BRCA testing at the Basser Research Center for BRCA. Read more »

CNN.com, People Magazine Interviews Susan Domchek, MD for Angelina Jolie Piece

Basser in People Magazine:

Susan Domchek, MD executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in the Abramson Cancer Center, was interviewed by People magazine  regarding Angelina Jolie’s BRCA news.

The article highlights "seven things to know" about the BRCA gene mutation from information on survivorship, genetic inheritance, testing and treatment options.

We invite you to read the article in full at People.com here.

Basser on CNN.com:

Dr. Domchek also provided expert Q&A content for CNN.com, providing information on the BRCA gene mutation, testing and the benefits and risks of mastectomy and oophorectomy.






For the latest information on BRCA research, 
screening and clinical trials from 
The Basser Research Center for BRCA,
visit the official webpage.
Read more »

 

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