Basser Center spreads awareness about BRCA cancers

Breast Cancer

Each year, more than 220,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Basser Research Center for BRCA, part of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, has a full lineup of outreach efforts this autumn, many coinciding with October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The Center, founded in 2012 with a donation from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray, aims to improve and support education, research, prevention, and treatment related to cancers associated with mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Individuals with harmful forms of one or both of these genes have significantly higher risks of developing cancers of the breast and ovary, among others.

Because these mutations are particularly prevalent in people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry—an estimated one in 40 individuals with this background carry a BRCA gene mutation, a risk 10 times higher than the general population—the Center has distributed educational posters to more than 1,500 synagogues across the United States with the message “Knowing Saves Lives.”

Working closely with Wharton alum and marketer Ellen Perl, who spearheaded the effort, the Basser Center timed the poster distribution to reach congregations in advance of the Jewish High Holidays in early September. Now, the Basser Center, in conjunction with a variety of partnering organizations, is planning “culminating events” at four large synagogues in New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles to drive the message home.

“These events are intended to open the conversation about BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the Jewish community,” says Rebecca Mueller, outreach coordinator for the Basser Center and a genetic counselor.

The Philadelphia event, planned for Sunday, Oct. 6 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 North Broad St., will feature talks by breast cancer survivors and “pre-vivors” who have tested positive for BRCA mutations and taken prophylactic steps to decrease their risk.

In addition, Susan Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center, will give a presentation on mutation inheritance, risk factors, genetic counseling, and cancer risk management. A panel discussion moderated by Stephanie Stahl, a medical reporter at CBS 3, will follow the presentations.


An estimated one in 40 individuals with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry carry a BRCA genetic mutation, a risk 10 times higher than the general population.

The Basser Center has also been involved in promoting benefit screenings of “Decoding Annie Parker,” a film starring Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt that tells the parallel stories of breast and ovarian cancer survivor Annie Parker and scientist Mary-Claire King, who discovered the connection between BRCA genes and cancer risk. Domchek participated in expert panels following the Los Angeles and Philadelphia screenings.

Outreach efforts related to BRCA genes and cancer risk will continue with a series of workshops planned for 2014 aimed at increasing awareness of the potential benefits of risk evaluation and genetic screening, and providing support and education to families facing increased cancer risk.

“There’s no denying cancer risk can be scary to hear about,” Mueller says, “but once increased cancer risk is identified, there is a lot that can be done.”

To learn more about BRCA1 and BRCA1 and the Basser Research Center for BRCA’s outreach events, visit the Basser Research Center for BRCA website.

Originally published on October 3, 2013