Hereditary Cancers


One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry a BRCA mutation. When someone has a change or a mutation in their BRCA genes, they have an increased risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and certain types of skin cancer. These mutations run in families: a parent who has a BRCA mutation has a 50% chance of passing it on to each child.

Families with a BRCA mutation can take steps to lower their cancer risk.

Recently, we invited members of the Chicago Jewish community to share their personal perspectives on testing, treatment, and life as a previvor or survivor. Learn more about navigating BRCA testing and what comes after from real stories by real people affected by BRCA mutations.

Learn more about genetic counseling, genetic testing, and how BRCA mutations can affect your health from a genetic counselor.


Bill's Story

Bill was diagnosed with male breast cancer after he noticed a lump on his breast in 2014. He tested positive for a BRCA2 mutation. Bill talks about the challenges in discussing his medical history with his adult children.

Jordyn's Story

Jordyn got screened for a BRCA mutation at age 25, knowing many relatives on her father’s side of the family battled cancer. After testing positive, she had a preventive double mastectomy.

Heidi's Story

Heidi learned she had a BRCA1 mutation through a 23&Me test, even though she did not know about any family history of cancer. After consulting with a genetic counselor, Heidi underwent preventative surgeries to remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes, and breast tissue.

Elisha's Story

Elisha learned she had a BRCA1 mutation after her mother’s ovarian cancer diagnosis. Elisha undergoes regular screenings for cancer. She discusses preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the strategy she chose to prevent the BRCA mutation from being passed to her children.

Sivan's Story

After testing positive for a BRCA1 mutation, Sivan started regular cancer screenings and ultimately decided a risk-reducing surgery was right for her. She discusses her decision to put her health first, which she believes will allow her to be there for her children.

Ziva's Story

Ziva’s sister’s breast cancer diagnosis prompted her to get screened for a BRCA1 mutation. Feeling alone as she navigated preventive surgeries, Ziva connected with other women in similar circumstances. Ever, since, she has been involved in Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), an organization that provides peer support for families at risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer across the U.S.

Ziva + Sivan

Mother and daughter duo Ziva and Sivan credit Ziva’s sister with giving them the opportunity to be proactive about their increased risk. They discuss the different resources and support they received when they discovered their BRCA1 mutations.

Alyssa's Story

Alyssa knew about her family history of cancer and her personal risk of hereditary cancer due to BRCA. Initially, she thought she would undergo preventive surgeries after completing her family, but she ultimately decided to have the operations before having children. Alyssa is hopeful about scientific advances that will improve our health in the future.

Zach's Story

Zach’s sister, Alexa, was diagnosed with breast cancer as a young woman. Her diagnosis spurred the family to examine their health history and ultimately led to the discovery of a BRCA mutation that had been passed down from Zach’s grandfather. After Alexa’s death, Zach and his family started a nonprofit, The Magnolia Tree Foundation, to provide education and financial assistance to others affected by BRCA mutations.

Iris's Story

In 2008, Iris was diagnosed with breast cancer and opted to have a bilateral mastectomy and preventive surgery to remove her ovaries. She discusses the steps she takes to keep herself and her family healthy.


Learn from a Genetic Counselor

What is Genetic Counseling?

Genetic counselor Shelly Weiss McQuaid explains how professionals like her help individuals and families learn about their genetic health risks. This can include assisting families in navigating genetic testing options, counseling on test results, and helping families make informed decisions.

What is Jewish about BRCA Mutations?

Shelly talks about BRCA mutations and the increased risk of BRCA-related cancers in men and women.

Family Planning and Family Health History

Shelly explains preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and how individuals who have a BRCA mutation may choose to incorporate the procedure in their family planning. Shelly expresses her hope that families are more open about discussing their medical history to take appropriate action to mitigate their risk.