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.

To see past issues of the BRCAbeat, the Basser Center's quarterly e-news blast, visit the BRCAbeat section here. Don't forget to sign up for future BRCAbeat e-news blasts as well.

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.


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.
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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.

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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.
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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.


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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. 
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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.



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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
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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.

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"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.”


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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.

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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.
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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 »

Knowing Saves Lives - Watch a Special BRCA 1/2 Information Session Here


Bracketing Previvor Day on October 2, the Basser Research Center for BRCA held two programs to educate the Jewish community about the increased incidence of BRCA1/2 mutations in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

For those who did not make the New York City or Philadelphia events, Central Synagogue has provided access to the program.

Watch the video below, or on YouTube to hear experts including the Basser Center’s Susan Domchek, MD, discuss breast and ovarian cancer risk and management of individuals who carry mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.


This summer, Penn Medicine's Basser Research Center for BRCA reached out to more than 1,500 Jewish congregations around the United States to promote awareness around BRCA gene mutations which are frequently recognized as risk factors for Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  Penn Medicine hopes to encourage discussion around increased incidences of BRCA mutations among people of Ashkenazi Jewish. Read more about Basser's outreach here. Read more »

Jewish Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Event 10/6 in Philadelphia

As one in a series of Jewish community educational events, Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA is collaborating with Living Beyond Breast Cancer and Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia to sponsor the Breast & Ovarian Cancer Symposium on Sunday, October 6, 2013 from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer: Why Jewish Families Are at Heightened Risk

Susan M. Domchek, MD
Susan Domchek, MD
The symposium will focus on the Ashkenazi Jewish population's increased chances of carrying a mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes place people at a greatly increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

To explore this topic, CBS3/CW Philly 57’s Stephanie Stahl be moderating a panel of breast and ovarian cancer experts. Presenting on the panel will be Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

“With proper genetic counseling, testing, education, and screening, women and men with BRCA mutations have the power to dramatically reduce their risk of developing these cancers and to catch them early when they are most curable,” says Domchek, also an oncologist at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. 

“We wanted to partner with synagogues to build on the strong trust that rabbis have already formed with their congregations. These religious leaders are in a position to empower their congregations to learn about their risk and take decisive steps to prevent and detect cancer in their families.”

The Sunday October 6 event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are necessary.

To RSVP and learn more about the Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Risk – What You Need to Know, the panelists attending and other details, visit the official event page.

Read More About BRCA in the Jewish Community

We encourage you to read more about these events at the Focus on Cancer Blog, from the official Penn Medicine press release as well as an inspirational blog post from the Union for Reform Judaism.

This program has been made possible by a generous grant from Women of Vision of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Greater Philadelphia
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Breast and Ovarian Cancer Symposium 9/30 in NYC with Basser Center for BRCA

Imaeg of Barbara WaltersAs one in a series of Jewish community educational events, Penn Medicine’s Basser Research Center for BRCA is collaborating with Central Synagogue in New York City to sponsor the Breast & Ovarian Cancer Symposium on Monday, September 30, 2013 from 6 to 8 pm

Inherited Breast & Ovarian Cancer: Why Jewish Families Are at Heightened Risk

The symposium will focus on the Ashkenazi Jewish population's increased chances of carrying a mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Mutations in these genes place people at a greatly increased risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

To explore this topic, Barbara Walters will be moderating a panel of breast and ovarian cancer experts. Presenting on the panel will be Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

“With proper genetic counseling, testing, education, and screening, women and men with BRCA mutations have the power to dramatically reduce their risk of developing these cancers and to catch them early when they are most curable,” says Domchek, also an oncologist at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. 

“We wanted to partner with synagogues to build on the strong trust that rabbis have already formed with their congregations. These religious leaders are in a position to empower their congregations to learn about their risk and take decisive steps to prevent and detect cancer in their families.”

The event is free and open to the public, and no tickets are necessary.

To RSVP and learn more about the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Symposium, the panelists attending and other details, visit the official event page.

Read More About BRCA in the Jewish Community

We encourage you to read more about these events at the Focus on Cancer Blog, from the official Penn Medicine press release as well as an inspirational blog post from the Union for Reform Judaism.


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 »

The Angelina Effect (Video)

"The genes that you're born with don't change over the course of your lifetime, however, genetic testing techniques Read more »

Media Coverage Recap: Basser Center and BRCA in the News

A special edition of the Basser Center for BRCA Research quarterly email newsletter, the BRCA-Beat, went out this week. The message focused on recapping recent Basser Center news coverage around Angelina Jolie's New York Times Op-Ed, "My Medical Choice."

Excerpt from the BRCA-Beat:

Susan Domchek, M.D., Executive Director, Basser Research Center for BRCA, is a nationally recognized expert in breast cancer genetics, breast cancer risk and prevention as well as breast cancer treatment, and along with other Basser Center experts, was interviewed by a number of media outlets from the New York Times, Bloomberg News, CNN, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe 6 ABC, Marie Claire and more.
Read the full newsletter coverage and sign up for the future editions here.
Read more »

How the Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn is Helping People with BRCA like Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie announced in a New York Times op-ed piece titled “My Medical Choice” she had a preventative (prophylactic) double mastectomy earlier this year.

A mastectomy is a procedure that removes part, or all of the breast.

Jolie, 37, announced she had the procedure after learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, which sharply increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

From her op-ed piece in the New York Times, Jolie says:

“We often speak of ‘Mommy’s mommy,” and I find myself trying to explain the illness that took her away from us. They have asked if the same could happen to me. I have always told them not to worry, but the truth is I carry a “faulty” gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy."

How the Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn is Helping Women with BRCA like Angelina Jolie


The Basser Research Center for BRCA at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center was created to lead the revolution in defeating BRCA-related cancers. Through visionary philanthropy by Mindy and Jon Gray, the Basser Center was created as the first comprehensive center of its kind, featuring a remarkable breadth and depth of talent and resources as well as pioneering research that cannot be found anywhere else in the nation.

Increasingly, women at high risk for breast cancer are choosing prophylactic mastectomy to greatly reduce their chance of getting breast cancer.

“Prophylactic mastectomy reduces breast cancer risk by at least 90 percent,” says Rebecca Mueller, MS, CGC, certified genetic counselor and outreach coordinator at the Basser Research Center for BRCA.

Mueller explains, “Prophylactic mastectomy reduces breast cancer risk by about 90 percent. Whether someone elects prophylactic mastectomy involves a lot of factors. The breast cancer risk profiles for BRCA1 and BRCA2 are slightly different, so the counseling is very individualized. At the end of the day, women’s personal experiences with breast cancer may inform their choices. Women who have lost loved ones to breast cancer are more likely to get prophylactic mastectomies. Women from families full of breast cancer survivors may make other choices.”

Indeed, while prophylactic mastectomy stories often make the front page, at least as many women at increased risk for breast cancer choose other methods of managing their risk like enhanced breast cancer screening or risk-reducing medications. Jessica Long, CGC, a genetic counselor at Penn’s Basser Research Center for BRCA explains that “this is generally a very personal decision for each woman, even within the same family.”

Cancer Genetic Counseling at Penn

Cancer genetic counseling is an extremely important step in defining one’s cancer risk and considering interventions to address it. Genetic counseling with genetic counselors can help people who are concerned about their family history of cancer by:

  1. Determining if genetic testing is appropriate for a family
  2. Interpreting genetic test results, since mutations in different cancer genes confer different risks
  3. Estimating cancer risks based on family history if no gene mutations can be identified
If a gene mutation is identified in a family, then family members can undergo genetic testing for that mutation to learn if they have inherited the increased cancer risk or not. For example, a mother or father with a BRCA1 mutation has a 50 percent chance of passing it on to each child. Despite the family history, individuals who do not inherit the mutation are typically at average risk for cancer.

Genetic counselors can also provide information on cancer risk by decade of life, information that can help women decide not just if but when to consider prophylactic surgery or other measures to manage cancer risk.

Penn’s Mariann and Robert MacDonald Women’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Center provides consultation with certified genetic counselors and medical oncologists.

Learn more about BRCA and hereditary cancer risk at Penn


Help Penn Discover New Ways to Help Women and Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2

The Basser Research Center for BRCA is dedicated to the improvement in basic understanding, clinical care, and development of new therapies targeting BRCA1/2 related cancers. Join the revolution and speed the pace of discovery, helping more women like Angelina Jolie empower themselves with knowledge about their risk for cancer by making a gift today.






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Bloomberg, Philly.com, 6ABC turn to Basser for BRCA Information

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

Bloomberg News quoted Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA in article on Jolie’s decision:

Jolie Mastectomy Fuels Debate on Breast Cancer Treatment
Those two paths, each with risks and benefits, can leave patients confused and conflicted over how best to protect themselves, said Susan Domchek, a breast cancer researcher and director of the Basser Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Jolie said she chose to have a double mastectomy after learning she had the genetic mutation that increased her risk for cancer, which killed her mother. Read more at Bloomberg here.


Domchek was also quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer piece on Angelina Jolie’s op-ed on carrying a BRCA1mutation and opting for a double mastectomy:

Jolie’s Difficult Medical Decision Wins Praise

"It's not the magic solution," Domchek said. "But it's a compelling example of how, if you know the biology of the cancer, you can use it." Read more at Philly.com here.


6 ABC also quoted the Basser executive director in an article about Jolie’s decision to get preventive mastectomies:

Understanding Angelina Jolie’s Decision

Dr. Susan Domchek of the University of Pennsylvania's Basser Research Center for BRCA, says easy access to information, and a wider range of reconstruction options figure are factors in the rise. Read more at 6 ABC 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 »

Basser in the New York Times: Jolie’s Disclosure of Preventive Mastectomy Highlights Dilemma



Susan Domchek, MD, executive director of the Basser Research Center for BRCA is quoted in a New York Times article on Jolie’s decision:

"It is generally considered safe to wait long enough to have children before having the ovaries removed, but the operation should be done by age 40," said Dr. Susan M. Domchek, an expert on cancer genetics at the University of Pennsylvania and the executive director of its Basser Research Center, which specializes in BRCA mutations.

We invite you to read the article in full at the
New York Times here, and for more of the latest information on BRCA research, testing and more

visit the official Basser webpage.
Read more »

People Magazine refers to Basser Experts in Kara DioGuardi’s Cancer Gene and Surrogacy Story

The Basser Research Center for BRCA, directed by Susan Domchek, MD, is mentioned in a People Magazine article detailing former American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi's quest to become a mother after learning she was a carrier of the BRCA2 mutation:

Kara DioGuardi: How My Cancer Gene Led Me to Surrogacy

"There was all this synchronicity... when the time came that I needed experts — The Basser Research Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania is also great — I could ask them for information and resources. I was very lucky."

Read more »

Miss America Contestant Plans Double Mastectomy

Miss America contestant Allyn Rose plans to undergo a double mastectomy now that her participation in the 2013 Miss America competition is over. The 24-year-old says her mother battled breast cancer as a 27-year-old, and then again at 47. Her mother eventually died from breast cancer, as did her grandmother and aunt. Rose’s story highlights the challenge that women face in considering hereditary cancer risk.

Increasingly, women at high risk for breast cancer are choosing prophylactic mastectomy to greatly reduce their chance of getting breast cancer. While prophylactic mastectomy stories often make the front page, many women at increased risk for breast cancer choose other methods of managing their risk like enhanced breast cancer screening or risk-reducing medications. Jessica Long, CGC, a genetic counselor at Penn’s Basser Research Center for BRCA explains that “this is generally a very personal decision for each woman, even within the same family.”

Cancer Genetic Counseling at Penn

Cancer genetic counseling is an extremely important step in defining one’s cancer risk and considering interventions to address it. Genetic counseling with genetic counselors can help people who are concerned about their family history of cancer by

  • Determining if genetic testing is appropriate for a family
  • Interpreting genetic test results, since mutations in different cancer genes confer different risks
  • Estimating cancer risks based on family history if no gene mutations can be identified

If a gene mutation is identified in a family, then family members can undergo genetic testing for that mutation to learn if they have inherited the increased cancer risk or not. For example, a mother with a BRCA1 mutation has a 50% chance of passing it on to each child. Despite the family history, individuals who do not inherit the mutation are typically at average risk for cancer.

Genetic counselors can also provide information on cancer risk by decade of life, information that can help women decide not just if but when to consider prophylactic surgery or other measures to manage cancer risk. For example, women with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have up to a 70 to 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer, but the risk for a BRCA carrier in her 20s to develop breast cancer by age 30 is about 1 to 2%.

Penn Medicine’s Cancer Risk Evaluation Program provides consultation with certified genetic counselors and medical oncologists. The Basser Research Center for BRCA within Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center was founded in May of 2012 to promote research on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes harmful forms of which cause hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome.

Learn more about BRCA and hereditary cancer risk at Penn. Read more »

Focus On Cancer Year in Review: FORCE and BRCA Previvors

2012 was an exciting year for the Abramson Cancer Center. We are featuring blogs featured on the Focus On Cancer blog that highlight cancer treatment breakthroughs, coping tips and ideas, education and inspiration. Today, we are highlighting the partnership between Penn and FORCE.

FORCE stands for “Facing Our Risk Cancer Empowered” and was founded by women who have the BRCA gene mutation. This blog discusses what being a previvor is and how FORCE is empowering women.

What is a Previvor?

The term “cancer pre-vivor” arose in 2000 from a challenge on the website, FORCE, which stands for “Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.”

Founded by Sue Friedman in 1999, FORCE acts under the principle that nobody should face hereditary cancer alone.

“FORCE’s goal has always been to include all who have been affected by hereditary cancer,” says Friedman. “This includes those with cancer and those without, those with a known mutation and those with cancer in the family even if no BRCA mutation has been found.

This particular challenge was posed by a FORCE website regular who posted on the site, “I need a label!” She expressed how she had lost her mother to breast cancer at a young age, she lost her breasts, ovaries, and fertility to the risk of cancer, but she did not have cancer. At that time the medical community used the term “unaffected carrier” to describe those who have a gene mutation but have not had cancer.

The term applies from a medical perspective, but can be dismissive for people who face the fears, stress, and difficult choices that accompany an increased risk for cancer,” says Friedman. “As a result, FORCE developed and promoted the term ‘cancer previvor’ for ‘survivor of a predisposition to cancer.’”

Previvors have unique needs from people with cancer such as active surveillance, testing and often need to make treatment decisions based on their risk for inherited cancer.

Now, more than a decade later, as we commemorate National Previvor Day, we celebrate the fact that previvorship has grown into more than a label, but an actual movement of real people who are empowered to take charge of their health.

The goal of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC)Week and Previvor Day is to raise awareness about hereditary cancer. HBOC Week marks the transition between National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and recognizes anyone affected by hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, including women and men with BRCA mutations, people with a family history of cancer, breast and ovarian cancer survivors, and previvors, individuals who carry a strong predisposition to cancer but have not developed the disease.

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 related to BRCA-related cancers.

Cancer Information From a Reliable Source

Thank you for a fantastic 2012. The Focus On Cancer blog is committed to provide people with cancer and their caregivers educated information from a reliable source, the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine. Please subscribe to our blog to get updates about new cancer treatments at Penn, credible information from cancer experts at Penn, and inspiration from other people with cancer. Read more »


Jordan Center Rena Rowan Breast Center MacDonald Womens Cancer Risk Cell & Vaccine Production Ovarian Cancer Research Breast Cancer Research Program Center for Personalized Medicine Translational Research Program BRC 4 BRCA