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Free genetic cancer tests for people in England with Jewish ancestry 

"Some people may feel they’d rather not know, but finding out early means people can get the support they need," said Peter Johnson, national cancer clinical director for the National Health Service in England.

A researcher in a medical lab. Credit: Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock.
A researcher in a medical lab. Credit: Viacheslav Lopatin/Shutterstock.

The National Health Service, the U.K. state healthcare system, plans to test 30,000 people in England with Jewish ancestry over the next two years, as part of a broader national effort to detect cancer risks early, when tumors are easier to treat.

“Some people may feel they’d rather not know, but finding out early means people can get the support they need from the NHS,” said Peter Johnson, national cancer clinical director for the NHS in England.

The saliva tests will look at “faults,” or mutations, in two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, “which repair DNA damage and normally help to protect against cancer,” per the NHS. It is testing those over 18 with at least one Jewish grandparent, which is less stringent than previous thresholds, per the BBC.

“Some individuals are born with a fault in one of these genes, and this increases their likelihood of developing certain cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreatic cancer,” the NHS added.

Those with Jewish ancestry “are around six times more likely to carry such genetic faults than the general population,” per the NHS.

“BRCA testing for the people most at risk has the potential to save lives, by allowing them to take steps to reduce the chance of cancers developing or making sure that any cancer can be detected as early as possible, with those at increased risk able to take advantage of surveillance and prevention programs with their health teams,” Johnson said.

The NHS is treating “record numbers of people for cancer, with 30% more people being treated last year than in 2015/16 and almost 3 million people receiving potentially lifesaving cancer checks in the last 12 months,” it stated.

The nonprofits Jnetics and Chai Cancer Care have been encouraging Jewish people in England to sign up for the test.

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