The Story of BRCA

Dr. Steven Narod

Dr. Steven Narod

In the early 1990s, Dr. Steven Narod was embarking on his career. At the time, researchers were convinced that a mutant gene was greatly increasing the risk of breast cancer in some families.

Narod was on the team that discovered the BRCA1 gene in 1994, followed by the BRCA2 gene in 1995. With these discoveries, the medical community had new opportunities to advance the care of hereditary breast cancer. And women with strong family histories could finally be screened for a gene mutation that would greatly increase their risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Since then, Narod’s research has proven that a number of therapies are effective at preventing cancer in susceptible women. In collaboration with WCRI adjunct scientist Dr. Kelly Metcalfe, he has shown that women who are aware of their mutations usually wish to pursue one or more of these therapies. Narod has also become known for offering free genetic testing to women with a strong family history who did not qualify for Ontario’s provincially funded screening services.


I strongly believe that a woman should have the right to learn about her mutation, and to take steps that we’ve proven are extremely effective to prevent cancer. Quotation_Right

“The goal of genetic testing has always been to identify high-risk women and to reduce their risk of cancer by offering them proven preventive options,” says Narod, who has led international collaborations in the study of mutations in Ashkenazi Jewish, French-Canadian, Polish, Pakistani, Filipino, Latin American and Bahamian populations.

When Angelina Jolie chose to have a double mastectomy to prevent cancer resulting from her BRCA1 mutation, some people applauded her while others questioned her decision to elect for surgery before being diagnosed with cancer.

“I strongly believe that a woman should have the right to learn about her mutation, and to take steps that we’ve proven are extremely effective to prevent cancer,” Narod says.

Narod was there when the BRCA genes were discovered. Since that time he has become the first to show that the BRCA gene mutations are linked to ovarian cancer, he has published diverse findings in more than 550 peer-reviewed articles, and he has been named the world’s most-cited researcher in the field of breast cancer.

Steven Narod is a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer, a professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, and a senior scientist at Women’s College Research Institute at Women’s College Hospital.
In 2012 and 2013 Narod was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. He also received the FORCE Spirit of Empowerment Award from Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, the O. Harold Warwick Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Champion of Genetics Rising Star Award from the Canadian Gene Cure Foundation.




Steven Narod leads one of the world’s most prominent programs of research into hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. His database of nearly 13,000 women from 30 countries supports numerous international collaborations in countries around the world, advancing cancer genetics in North America, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.

  • In 2009, Dr. Narod and his team became the first in the world to offer and evaluate genetic testing of all Ashkenazi women independent of family history. With Dr. Kelly Metcalfe, an associate professor in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto, he discovered that fewer than one-half of Ontario’s Jewish women carrying mutations are eligible for provincially funded genetic testing. This led to a re-evaluation of public policy regarding genetic testing services. The work also revealed that few of the eligible women were actually referred for genetic screening by their family doctors, in spite of the availability and efficacy of prophylactic therapies.
  • In 2012, Narod’s collaborative work in Poland led to the discovery that North American women with BRCA1 mutations have nearly double the risk of developing breast cancer than Polish women with the same mutation. Narod’s team is now examining lifestyle factors that may decrease risk in Polish women.
  • Narod is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Canadian Cancer Society research initiative and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.