Panelists share breast and ovarian cancer experiences, research

Professor Robin Schwartz helped lead a discussion at Hillel House Wednesday November 4th, 2015. Schwartz brought up illuminating details and statistics on breast and ovarian cancer. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus). 

Although National Breast Cancer Awareness month ended a week ago, a panel of professors and experts continued the discussion about breast and ovarian cancer in a discussion at Hillel House Wednesday evening.

Opening the discussion was Robin Schwartz, the first certified genetic counselor in Connecticut and assistant professor within the department of genetics and genome sciences at the UConn.

Professor Schwartz used her time to go into details regarding facts and statistics surrounding breast and ovarian cancer. Particularly interesting and eye opening was the information she provided in regards to individuals who have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry.

Individuals of this descent are concentrated in Eastern European countries such as Poland and Germany.  Essentially it is more common for people with this heritage to be pre-disposed to genetic mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are the genes that associate to breast and ovarian cancer.

According to statistics provided during the lecture, 90 percent of families of Ashkenazi Jewish lineage carry these mutations in either gene. Women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes stand at a higher risk of the mutation developing between the ages of 35 and 40 or when the childbearing phase of a women’s life comes to an end. The mutation within BRAC1 and BRAC2 has a 50 percent chance to be inherited from the parents.

“We don’t want to launch ourselves into a lecture,” Professor Schwartz said.

That did not become a problem, however, as all the information presented was palpable. That allowed the audience to leave with more information about breast and ovarian cancer.

“I want people to understand that we all have different backgrounds and to be informed about their family history with disease and the risks involved so we can be educated about our own personal risk,” said Jacob Zinn, a first semester graduate student in the healthcare genetics program.

Several audience members commented on the fact that genetics is a growing field. Though this seems to be the case, one might think it is overwhelming as this field has many different avenues to explore.

“Genetics draws a particular audience and I think it’s important for those people to continue the conversation with everyone as genetics applies to everyone,” said Audrey Morrissette, a first-semester graduate student also in the healthcare genetics program.


Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.gilbert@uconn.edu.