In this blog post, we’ll be looking at hereditary risks for ovarian cancer and genetic testing. We’re often asked about these topics in our support service and hope that these posts will be a helpful starting point if you want to explore them further.

Our cells contain a complete instruction manual that tells them how to make the proteins that they need to carry out their different functions. This is the genetic code in our DNA. Each gene in the code is a blueprint for a different protein. When a cell needs to make a protein, it reads the gene and puts the protein together.

You can find out more about how genes are translated into proteins here and in this video.

Sometimes a change can occur to a gene, for example due to a copying error when the cell divides or from environmental factors such as exposure to cigarette smoke or radiation. These changes are called mutations. Some mutations affect the structure of the protein so that it doesn’t work properly or is inactive.

Mutations that increase the risk of cancer often affect genes for proteins involved in preventing tumours. For example the BRCA genes (which we’ll look at in more detail in a future post) are translated into proteins that help to repair DNA damage. Therefore, if one of these proteins isn’t working, damage can build up in the cell’s DNA so that it starts to multiply out of control and develops into a tumour. You can watch a video about how some mutations cause cancer here.

Increased hereditary risk of ovarian cancer occurs in people who have inherited genetic mutations from one or both of their parents. The mutations were present in their mother’s egg and/or their father’s sperm.

You can read more about some of the inherited mutations associated with ovarian cancer at 'Genetic mutations cancer risk' Ovarian Cancer Action and 'Factors that affect ovarian cancer risk' (facingourrisk.org).

If you’re diagnosed with high grade serous ovarian cancer, you are likely to be offered ‘BRCA’ mutation testing, as the current guidelines recommend it. You should also be offered genetic counselling.

You can find more information and resources on hereditary ovarian cancer, BRCA mutations and Lynch Syndrome here. 

If you would like to share your experiences of genetic testing, please comment on this post. If you would like information or support, please contact our Support Line on 0800 008 7054 or email [email protected]