Your Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Breast Cancer

Your Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Breast Cancer

Introduction – Breast Cancer

 

We at Sharsheret understand how difficult of a time that experiencing symptoms and being diagnosed with breast cancer can be. At Sharsheret, we’re focused on providing Jewish women, men, and their families, friends, and caregivers with resources and advice on moving forward.

 

The Risks for Jewish Women & Men

 

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer diagnoses for women, and the risks of developing breast cancer are especially high for those with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. They’re more than 10 times as likely to carry a BRCA gene mutation than the general population, which translates to one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carrying a BRCA mutation. Jewish families are also significantly more susceptible to hereditary breast cancer as those with BRCA mutations have a 50% chance of passing them to each of their children.

 

BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations also affect Jewish men, who are at an increased risk for male breast cancer as well as prostate and pancreatic cancers and melanoma.

risks

Breast Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms for breast cancer can vary and may not occur in the same manner for everyone, but general symptoms and signs include:

 

  • A lump or swelling, which is usually painless, but not always
  • Skin dimpling or puckering
  • Nipple retraction
  • Redness or scaling of the nipple or breast skin
  • Discharge from the nipple
  • Chest or breast pain

 

You should also be mindful of any swelling or lumps under your arm or around the collar bone, as breast cancer can sometimes spread to the surrounding areas before the original tumor is found or large enough to be felt.

Breast Cancer Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatments

Preventative screening can catch breast cancer sooner and create better outcomes through the diagnosis and treatment processes.

Testing and Screenings

Regular breast cancer screening is a critical part of ensuring your wellness, detecting cancer early, and improving your outcome.

 

Jewish women, especially those with a family history of breast cancer or known BRCA mutations, should consider a breast cancer risk assessment. Risk assessments are based on your family history and additional genetic testing and can help determine your risks and if you may need to start screening for breast cancer early.

 

However, not all Individuals with breast cancer qualify for genetic testing without the need for family history or Jewish ancestry, per NCCN guidelines. The Association of Breast surgeons recommend testing for all women with breast cancer, but insurance usually follows NCCN.

treatment

In addition, breast MRI and other imaging techniques may be recommended for individuals with higher risk profiles. As always, discuss your unique situation with your doctor to determine the preventative measures that will be best for you.

 

Proper screening can also be important to discovering any other gene mutations such as ATM, CHEK2, PALB2, PTEN, or TP53.

 

Jewish women should be proactive in discussing personalized screening plans with their healthcare providers to ensure appropriate and timely detection of such gene mutations and issues, which may lead to better outcomes in regards to diagnosis and treatment.

 

Jewish men as well should be educated on their risks and take measures to avoid them with frequent screening for prostate, pancreatic, breast cancers, and melanomas.

 

Genetic testing is one of the primary ways of detecting hereditary genetic mutations, though there can be an exorbitant cost. We have several webinars and other resources on affording genetic testing and going over the basics of navigating insurance during cancer treatments as well.

 

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnostic testing for breast cancer often includes ultrasounds, mammograms, and MRIs, as well as biopsies. These tests will also determine whether or not to run further tests for staging to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of your body.

 

Treatments for breast cancer fall into several main categories.

  1. Surgery, which may be a lumpectomy (removing just the cancer) or mastectomy (removing the whole breast).
  2. Chemotherapy, which may be done either before or after the surgery.  Chemotherapy can also include targeted treatment, especially based on tumor testing that finds out that a cancer is HER2+.
  3. Radiation, which uses high energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells
  4. Hormonal intervention may be used for those whose tumors are either estrogen receptor (ER) or progesterone receptor (PR) positive.

 

Biomarker testing can also be used to help determine the best treatment.  You can view our biomarker page related to breast cancer here.

 

We at Sharsheret have developed a Newly Diagnosed packet which can help explain your diagnosis, along with offering tips for treatment and what to ask your treatment team. You can connect with our Clinical Team for a personalized information packet.

 

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make following your diagnosis is on the topic of your treatment options. We’ve designed a navigation flowchart that will explain the basics of your pathology report, specific diagnosis, and what options may be available to you in regards to fertility preservation, surgical options, and various treatments.

 

Along with the treatment itself, it helps to get to know your treatment team and feel comfortable asking them questions about your care. You can find out more about other women’s experiences in treatment through our Peer Support Network.

screening

Male Breast Cancer

 

The BRCA gene mutation affects Ashkenazi men as well as women; as men with a BRCA mutation have an increased risk of developing breast cancer as well as melanoma breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.

 

Men with increased risk of these cancers should be aware of the signs and symptoms. For prostate cancer, this includes:

  • Frequent urination, especially at night and/or blood in the urine
  • A weak or interrupted urine flow
  • New onset of erectile dysfunction
  • Discomfort or pain when sitting

 

Living With Breast Cancer

Sharsheret is focused on helping you live healthier and have the support you need during treatment. With tips for living healthier, understanding and taking care of your finances and insurance coverage, ad taking care of yourself spiritually,

 

Healthy Living

 

Focusing on nutrition, getting proper exercise, and spiritual mindfulness and wellness are all integral to maintaining a healthy lifestyle during and following cancer treatment. To help, we’ve compiled numerous blog posts, videos, webinars from experts, and other resources to help those dealing with breast cancer live healthier lives.

 

Some of our resources include:

healty-living

Finances & Insurance

A main difficulty in diagnosis and treatment for cancer is gaining access to care and being able to afford the potentially high cost of care with or without help from insurance. We offer a financial wellness toolkit along with resources to help you understand your rights, get tips on financial and estate planning, and more. Some of these resources include:

 

 

Spirituality

 

Taking care of your spiritual wellness is just as important as taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing, which we at Sharsheret understand and support. We offer resources regarding meditation, yoga, and psalms/tehillim groups that can help you and your loved ones and caregivers heal and find a sense of purpose throughout treatment.

 

Some of these include:

  • Articles and resources on Mindful.org that center around meditation and mindfulness
  • The Institute for Jewish Spirituality, dedicated to teaching Jewish spiritual practices and mindfulness
  • And Aneinu, an International Tehillim Organization fostering heartfelt community through recital of the Sefer Tehillim

Closeup shot of two unrecognizable people holding hands in comfort

Living Legacies

 

Lastly, our living legacies series serves as an opportunity to leave a lasting video for your loved ones with your wisdom, insight, and well-wishes that will carry on.

Reach Out to Sharsheret

 

Experiencing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer is a daunting life change, but Sharsheret is here to help. We can help you connect with others living with breast cancer, both in treatment and beyond, for support through the journey.

 

At Sharsheret, we believe in advocacy, not only personal advocacy, but in the community, as well. We work with medical experts, survivors, and those newly diagnosed to form a community dedicated to providing Jewish women, men, and families with the support they need to communicate with their medical teams and thrive through treatment.

 

We hope this comprehensive guide to Jewish breast cancer was helpful and invite you to get involved or reach out to us with questions or comments.

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