Israel, With One of World's Highest Breast Cancer Rates, Marks Awareness Month

High incidence of breast cancer in Israel attributed to 'Jewish gene' mutation common among Ashkenazi Jews.

Israel, where the incidence of breast cancer is among the highest in the world, launched an international breast cancer awareness month on Saturday. With the help of the cosmetics company Estee Lauder and the Israel Cancer Association, the buildings along the coast in the Old City of Jaffa were lit with pink lights, signifying the struggle against breast cancer.

Old City of Jaffa lit up in pink Nir Kafri October 3, 2010
Nir Kafri

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in Israel. The high rate is attributed to the "Jewish gene" – three mutations in the genes BRACA1 and BRACA2 – which raise the likelihood of breast cancer by 60 to 80 percent. These mutations are relatively common among Jewish Ashkenazi women, at a rate of 2.5 percent (as opposed to 0.3 percent among the general population).

4,000 Israeli women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and 900 die of the disease. In addition, 50 Israeli men are also diagnosed with breast cancer annually.

According to estimates, one in every eight Israeli women is at risk of developing breast cancer at some point in her life. Among the most common risk factors are not only genetic markers, but also environmental causes such as nutrition and physical activity.

Early detection of the cancer raises the chance of recovery to 90 percent.

Around the world, more than 40 sites were showered in pink lights to mark the beginning the of the awareness month, among them the Empire State building and the Rockefeller Center in New York City, Los Angeles' airport, the Eifel Tower in Paris, the Taj Mahal in India, and many others.

This year, Estee Lauder is trying to break the Guinness world record by lighting up at least 24 major sites around the world for at least 24 hours each. The company also plans to hand out more than 110 million pink ribbons in more than 70 countries to mark the breast cancer awareness month.