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Fox Chase Cancer Center Researchers Study Colon Cancer Risk Among Ashkenazi Jews

PHILADELPHIA (February 13, 2002) -- Researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center are participating in a new clinical trial studying a recently identified genetic mutation (I1307K) that is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer among individuals in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Along with genetic testing, the researchers are examining the impact of genetic testing on colon cancer risk perception.

"We are focusing our efforts on the Ashkenazi population because the I1307K mutation is found only in this ethnic group. The incidence of colon cancer is already higher for Ashkenazi Jews than for the general population," says David Weinberg, M.D., MSc, principal investigator and director of gastroenterology at Fox Chase Cancer Center. "Understanding the risk of colorectal cancer risk will help us create better methods of screening and counseling for individuals who are predisposed to develop the disease," he says.

The purpose of this study, says Weinberg, is to learn more about the effects of the genetic mutation, to evaluate the psychological impact of genetic testing for the genetic mutation and, to examine the processes of coping with genetic information.

"We want to know what people do with this information," says Weinberg. "We are looking for behavior modification in individuals who learn more about their individual risk to develop cancer." Weinberg and his colleagues will be counseling individuals about their colon cancer risk and advising of methods for prevention, such as having a colonoscopy, or modifying exercise and dietary habits as well as other lifestyle changes.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers. It affects approximately six percent of the general population and nine to 15 percent of Ashkenazi Jews. According to Genetic Health, an Internet-based company that specializes in healthcare genetics, it is estimated that six million ethnic Jews live in the United States and approximately 80 percent are of Ashkenazi descent.

Researchers at Fox Chase are looking for Ashkenazi Jews who have had colon or rectal cancer or who have a first-degree relative, such as a mother, father, brother or sister, who has been diagnosed with the disease.

Participants will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their attitudes regarding genetic testing and undergo an initial interview. If appropriate, interested participants also will provide a blood sample for genetic testing. Approximately six weeks following the blood test, participants will return for confidential disclosure of the results, additional counseling, and recommendations for continuing surveillance. All mutation positive participants and 20 percent of the mutation negative participants will have follow-up psychosocial interviews at one, four and 12 months following disclosure of the results. Individuals who have tested positive for the genetic mutation will be asked to identify their first-degree relatives so they can refer them to the study.

"Testing for genetic mutations or abnormalities is a delicate issue and often generates uncertainty and distress" says Neal Meropol, M.D., medical oncologist and key collaborator on this study. "If we can identify the genetic markers for colorectal cancer, we may be able to develop better screening techniques coupled with comprehensive genetic education and counseling," he added. "We want to ensure that patients receive accurate information to help them make informed decisions regarding their condition and options involving cancer prevention."

In addition to Fox Chase Cancer Center, Evanston Northwestern Healthcare, in Chicago and Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, are also involved in this study, which has been funded for four years by the National Cancer Institute. To participate in the study please call 1-800-977-5232.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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