10 October 2009

Miami: Hispanic incidence of breast cancer

Tracing the Tribe frequently covers issues relating to Sephardim and Conversos, including the incidence of so-called "Ashkenazi" breast cancer (BRCA1 and BRCA2) in Hispanics.

On Friday, CBS TV-4 in Miami, Florida reported that research shows breast cancer is high in Hispanics:

Doctors have known for years that BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations are more common among Ashkenazi Jews. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found there are also a higher percentage of BRCA 1 mutations in Hispanics. BRCA 1 mutations appear in 8.3 percent of Ashkenzai Jewish, 3.5 percent of Hispanic patients and 2.2 percent of non-Ashkenzai, non-Hispanic patients.
These types, of course, are not exclusively Ashkenazi, but merely Jewish, and date from before the Jewish world split into Sephardim and Ashkenazim. ManyHispanics are descendants (whether they know it or not) of Conversos - those forced to convert to Catholicism or die - with origins in Spain and Portugal. These individuals spread out globally, to Central and South America, to the US (particularly the Southwest), the Caribbean, the Philippines, Asia, Western Europe and even Eastern Europe.

In another recent article in a Pennsylvania paper, it reports:
Ten percent of breast cancer is caused by an incidence of a specific gene, which carries a 1 in 500 incidence rate. In those of Hispanic and EasternEuropean or Ashkenazi Jewish descent, the risk is 1 in 40.
While those who are aware of Sephardic history understand why so-called "Ashkenazi" breast cancer shows in the Hispanic community, it is worth repeating.

Tracing the Tribe often hears about cases in Southwest states in which Hispanics who present with the mis-named condition are asked if they have Ashkenazi background, which really confuses the patient and the family, who may or may not know their family's roots.

It is obvious that much more education is needed among health professionals and genetic counselors everywhere. Hispanics also need to learn more about their own origins so that they can evaluate their own risks and roots.

This sounds like an excellent project for the Hispanic genealogical societies to get involved in by informing their own members.

Cancer specialist Dr. Marilyn Raymond said, in the interview, that "The reason the BRCA 1 gene is found in people of Hispanic ancestry is because during the Spanish Inquisition Jewish people, Sephardic Jewish people, left Spain and fled to Mexico to avoid persecution. Then they intermarried and had children with people in Mexico which led to the dissemination of the gene into that population," Dr. Raymond said.

That is correct as far as it goes, but the doctor may need to brush up on Sephardic history. I don't think it is because they married non-Jews in Mexico as she seems to state. Many, if not most, of the early Conversos who went to Mexico married other Conversos.

The bottom line: What is most important is that these findings mean that Hispanics need to be aware of their risks and their roots. Search Tracing the Tribe for many posts on this subject (use the search box in the right side bar).

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