Carol and Wendy

Carol Abrams, left, Minkoff Center’s immediate past board president and Wendy Carriere at an event.

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, but only some have mutations in those genes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in every 500 women in the United States has a mutation in either her BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. About 50 out of 100 women with a BRCA gene mutation will get breast cancer by the time they turn 70, compared to only 7 out of 100 women in the general United States’ population.

Since 2004, the nonprofit Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics has been serving both Jews and non-Jews in Greater Phoenix through education, genetic screening and referral services for BRCA and other hereditary cancers.

On Sunday, Oct. 23, at 1 p.m., the Minkoff Center will be holding a genetic education and counseling event in conjunction with Congregation Beth El Phoenix’s Social Action Committee and Women’s League. The event will begin with a reception followed by a brief educational program starting at 2 p.m. Following the group program, personalized prenatal and hereditary counseling sessions will be conducted to give participants individual advice and care.

“This is the first event that we’ve ever done that has had both the BRCA and prenatal counseling, education and screening all under the same roof — and it’s in person,” said Wendy Carriere, the Minkoff Center’s executive director. “The founder, Sherman Minkoff, who passed away in 2018, was a huge proponent of in-person [events].”

Dr. Katherine Hunt Brendish is a director and clinical professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. She joined ASU in 2019, coming from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, where she was an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Genomics. A certified genetic counselor, Hunt Brendish, has been the director of the BRCA program at the Minkoff Center since it started the program in 2018.

“The event provides couples/individuals access to genetic counseling and genetic testing for conditions that could affect their offspring. The genetic counselors affiliated with the center will follow up with participants once their results are available and provide additional counseling and information, if necessary,” said Hunt Brendish.

“In addition, we will provide a brief overview of risk factors for hereditary forms of cancer in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, followed by personalized genetic counseling with a certified genetic counselor. The one-on-one genetic counseling will involve a discussion about possible risks for carrying a hereditary cancer gene as well as information about where to get genetic testing in the community.”

Carriere expressed appreciation to Sara Ziskin at Beth El for reaching out to her and offering to host the event. Ziskin is a member of the Beth El Social Action Committee along with Barbara Lewkowitz (chair), Debbie Gordon, Leisah Woldoff and Sara Zilversmit.

“We have events each month to support various projects in the broader community,” said Ziskin. “For October, we decided that we wanted to recognize breast cancer awareness month and to provide information and screening to Beth El members and to the broader community. We contacted the Minkoff Center to work on the event with us and provide their expertise. As we planned the event, we broadened it to also provide prenatal information and screening.”

This is the first in-person event the Minkoff Center held since the pandemic, when they provided their services virtually. “The pandemic allowed us to shift our programming as we provided two virtual programs,” said Hunt Brendish. “The first program focused on information and patient experiences with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and the second program focused on a couples’ experience with prenatal carrier screening.”

Carriere explained the center has also changed its mission statement to include the word “support” to be more sensitive to the landscape after the pandemic.

“Everybody neglected some portion of health care when it was closed down,” said Carriere. “Our organization is trying to be more agile than we were before. We’re listening to what the community wants.”

Hunt Brendish encourages anyone interested in either prenatal screening or education about hereditary cancer syndromes to attend the event. “There is no obligation to undergo prenatal genetic screening if you are not interested. In addition, if someone has questions about their family history of cancer and are not sure whether they should undergo genetic testing, the event will provide individuals an opportunity to get all their questions answered.”

“Everybody knows somebody who has had cancer and if it’s hereditary you have to know,” said Carriere. “We have this concept of ‘previvor’ where you haven’t gone through it yet. Obviously, there’s the cancer survivor but you want to be in that place where you’re just being monitored all the time, so you never have to deal with it.” JN

For more information or to register, visit jewishgeneticsaz.org.