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Joan H. Marks, MS

Co-Director of The New York Breast Cancer Study
Sarah Lawrence College
Bronxville, New York

Current Research

  • Seeking to characterize the genetic susceptibility to breast cancer in high-risk groups to improve screening and risk stratification strategies.

  • The NYBCS team will examine genetic profiles of Jewish families severely affected with breast cancer, but who have no mutations in any known breast cancer gene.

  • These collaborative efforts continue to inform our understanding of inherited risks of breast cancer in diverse populations.

Individuals who inherit a deleterious mutation in the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 or BCRA2 have a significantly high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. BRCA mutations are much more common in families of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish descent, than the general population, even when there is no known family history of cancer. Ms. Marks works closely with BCRF investigator, Mary Claire King on studies to understand the inherited susceptibility of breast cancer in women and men of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage. These studies have revealed the involvement of other genes and stress the need for genetic screening in this high-risk population.


Joan H. Marks is Co-Director of The New York Breast Cancer Study, a research project examining the role of breast cancer genes in increasing the incidence of breast cancer in Ashkenazi Jewish women.

From 1972 to 1998 Joan Marks directed two unique graduate programs in health care at Sarah Lawrence College. The Human Genetics program, which she developed into the largest program in the country to educate genetic counselors, pioneered the field of genetic counseling and served as a model for 26 similar programs at universities in the U.S. and several others in Canada, Argentina, Australia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, England and Israel. In 1979, Marks founded the Graduate Program in Health Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence, the first graduate degree program to train advocates who work within the complex health care delivery system in the U.S. to ensure the rights of patients and health care consumers.

Joan Marks has served on a number of advisory boards in medicine such as the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Academy of Physicians and Patients, and the Women's Health Initiative of the National Institutes of Health. She has also chaired the Ethics Committee of the National Neurofibromatosis Association and is a member of their Clinical Care Advisory Board. She is the author of The Genetic Connection: How To Protect Your Family Against Genetic Disease and editor of Advocacy in Health Care: The Silent Constituency.

In 2003, Joan Marks became the first woman and first non-MD to receive the Excellence in Human Genetics Education Award, presented by the American Society of Human Genetics. In April 2006, in recognition of her "enduring contributions to Sarah Lawrence College, and of her legacy as pioneer, educator, mentor, advocate and leader in genetic counseling," the College formally named its human genetics program the Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics.

Large Researcher Headshot - Marks Joan

BCRF Investigator Since