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Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD

Director, Clinical Cancer Genetics Program
Professor of Oncology and Population Sciences
Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope
Duarte, California

Current Research

  • Seeking to increase genetic screening and counseling for hereditary breast cancer in Latin America and Mexico.
     
  • An international team is engaged in the training of doctors and the recruitment of women to undergo genetic testing for BRCA mutations.
     
  • These efforts are increasing access to early screening and appropriate genetic counseling that can save the lives of women at risk of breast cancer in Latin America and Mexico.

Breast cancers that occur in families or occur early in life, may signal a hereditary component, most frequently a mutation in the breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Latina and Mexican women are more likely to get breast cancer earlier in life than non-Hispanic white women, but few families in Mexico or Latin America have access to genetic testing. Dr. Weitzel is leading an international effort to increase genetic screening and counseling for women in Mexico and Latin America and has found hereditary breast cancer to be a serious problem in these groups of women. 

Full Research Summary

Although commercial testing for BRCA mutations has been available in the US for nearly two decades, access to BRCA gene testing and genetic counseling is not available for the majority of Latin American and Mexican countries. 

Dr. Weitzel is conducting an international project studying BRCA mutations among Latin American women, while helping these countries create an infrastructure of genetic counseling by clinicians and develop and test low-cost genetic testing tools to apply in their home countries.

He and his colleagues have so far tested approximately 1,500 Latin American women for BRCA mutations and trained doctors for clinics in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Peru. 

Recent updates show that BRCA mutation is prevalent in approximately 16 percent of the study participants, suggesting that hereditary breast cancer is an important problem in these populations. 

Seminars and clinical proctoring are conducted on site and a recent site visit to Peru provided confirmation of best practices, including hospital staff seminars to promote appropriate referrals for genetic cancer risk assessment. 

Identification of women at highest risk for breast cancer allows for limited clinical resources to be focused where they are needed most to detect breast cancer earlier and prevent the disease. These studies are advancing our understanding of the impact of BRCA mutations in Latina women and support efforts for early screening, genetic counseling, and access to care.

Biography

Jeffrey N. Weitzel, MD is Chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics and the Cancer Screening & Prevention Program at the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California. Dr. Weitzel is Board Certified in clinical genetics and medical oncology, and he is a Professor of Oncology and Population Sciences at the City of Hope. At the vanguard of personalized medicine, Dr. Weitzel’s multidisciplinary clinical, research, and training programs emphasize translational research in genomic cancer risk assessment, chemoprevention, targeted therapy, clinical and psychosocial outcomes, genetic epidemiology and health services research in underserved minorities, and hereditary cancer in Latin America. He is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the NCCN Genetics/Familial Risk Assessment practice guidelines committee. Dr. Weitzel is the principal investigator for the City of Hope Cancer Genetics Education Program and for the Clinical Cancer Genetics Community Research Network, which are funded by the National Cancer Institute.

BCRF Investigator Since

2013

Donor Recognition

The Basser Initiative @ Gray Foundation and BCRF Collaborative Award

Area(s) of Focus