NEW YORK – The UK National Health Service on Thursday announced the launch of a national testing program targeted at people with Jewish ancestry in England who might be carriers of cancer-causing genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes.
The NHS Jewish BRCA Testing Program will provide free testing to anyone in England with Jewish ancestry. Participants can provide a saliva sample which will be sent for testing within the NHS. The NHS North West and Thames Genomic Laboratory Hubs are both supporting the program.
The aim of the program is to identify people with advanced risk of carrying the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations so that they can undergo regular screening and any new cancer cases can be flagged early when they are easier to treat. According to the NHS, people with Jewish ancestry are about six times more likely to carry these mutations, which increase their likelihood of developing breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer during their lifetimes.
The NHS noted that thousands of Britons with Jewish ancestry have already been tested during a pilot phase of the program, and that they expect to test about 30,000 more people over the next two years. People with at least one Jewish grandparent qualify for testing. According to the 2021 UK Census, there were about 278,000 Jews living in England and Wales, with close to 150,000 living in London.
Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said in a statement that the program has "the potential to save lives, by allowing [participants] to take steps to reduce the chance of cancers developing or making sure that any cancer can be detected as early as possible."
The NHS has recently sought to engage more people in the UK to undergo regular screening and testing. For example, it introduced a lung health check program, which has deployed mobile tricks around the country for lung cancer screening. More than 3,000 people with lung cancers have been diagnosed in the UK thanks to the program, three quarters of whom were at stage I or II of the disease, according to the NHS.