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Center for Jewish Genetics blog

Carrier Screening is Important for All Couples

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By: Elayne Goldman and Leah Steinberg

The smell of pumpkin is in the air and that mid-November chill is beginning to settle in; stores are already preparing for the holiday season and Thanksgiving finally feels like it’s right around the corner. Although this time of year means different things to different people, it’s often a time to celebrate our cultural traditions with friends and family, whether that is American customs of pumpkin pie and turkey at the Thanksgiving table or religious customs with the myriad of holidays and celebrations before we move on to the New Year.

These traditions and cultural customs are important to us because they have been passed down through generations. In my family, Thanksgiving doesn’t begin until everyone present is wearing a plastic pilgrim hat, and it doesn’t end until everyone has had a piece of my grandmother’s celebrated pumpkin bread. Traditions like these can be difficult to explain to people who didn’t grow up with them (the hats seem to shock anyone new to the celebration, while we barely notice them anymore), but it is this sharing of family customs and traditions that make the holidays so special.

However, it’s important to remember that there is a lot more that can be passed down through generations than just funny looking hats and amazing recipes; the holidays are an excellent time to start the conversation with your loved ones about your family health history and what could be in your genes. Even if there is no family history of any genetic conditions in your family, it is still possible that you could be a carrier of one of these life-altering conditions. Carriers are generally healthy and usually show no symptoms of the disorder they are a carrier for; instead it is their future children who could be affected with these disorders, as carrier couples have a 25% chance with each pregnancy of having a child affected with that condition.

And just like explaining cultural traditions to one’s partner can be especially confusing in an interfaith relationship, the myths about carrier screening can be equally as confusing for these families. The reality is that interfaith couples are not exempt from the threat of being a carrier couple; like all other couples, the only way to know what is in your genes is to get screened.

Why, you might ask, would interfaith couples share this risk of being carrier couples for genetic conditions? Aren’t they called “Jewish genetic disorders” for a reason? In truth, these disorders do not exist solely in the Jewish community, they are just found more commonly in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Additionally, all ethnicities carry increased risks for some genetic disorders, and just like in the Jewish community, none of these disorders are exclusive to one ethnic background. This means that interfaith couples can also be carrier couples, and if so, would then share the same 25% chance with each pregnancy that their child would be affected with one of these life-altering genetic conditions.

Knowledge is power, and if you have questions about what these results could mean for your family planning, please feel free to contact the Center. Finding out you’re a carrier couple does not mean the end of family planning, it means informed family planning. And as you get ready to share the pumpkin bread with those you love, start the conversation about family health history. 

And if you’re ready to get screened or want to learn more about the process, email us at GeneticScreening@juf.org. Carrier screening has never been more accessible, and the Center is here to hold your hand throughout the entire process. Contact the Center’s Community Outreach Coordinator at ElayneGoldman@juf.org for more information.



Affordable, Accessible Genetic Screening in Illinois

Our affordable, accessible carrier screening program uses advanced technology to provide comprehensive screening for Jewish and interfaith couples. Visit our Get Screened page to learn more and register.


Planning for a Family?

1 in 4 Jews carries a potentially devastating genetic disorder that could pass down to a child. Make carrier screening part of your family planning process. 


Do You Know What's In Your Genes?

What is the most valuable gift you can give to your family? The gift of good health! There are many health conditions that run in families. Knowing your family health history can alert you to the potential risk for a variety of genetic disorders . Talk to your relatives for warning signs and assess your risk for hereditary cancers.

Did you know: Ashkenazi Jews are 10 TIMES more likely to have BRCA mutations, which significantly increases lifetime risks for hereditary cancers, so what does this heightened risk mean for you? Click here to learn more .