Strands of DNA

Our bodies are made of millions – and millions – of cells.  Each one of these contains DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) which carries instructions for how we grow and develop.

The term, instructions, is a way of describing the genetic code inside our DNA.  Each gene is a model for a protein, which is made of thousands of tiny particles.  These proteins do the work of keeping our bodies working properly.

Some proteins help to repair DNA if it is damaged.  If the DNA is not repaired, it could multiply and possibly form a tumour.

Meanwhile, changes can happen to a gene, this is sometimes called a mutation.  This means that the protein the gene created may not work correctly, so it no longer repairs damaged DNA.  The damage can get worse and the cell that contains the damaged DNA can become cancerous.

One of the processes our cells use to repair DNA is called homologous recombination.  Some gene changes can stop cells from doing this.  This development is called homologous recombination deficiency (HRD).  BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene changes are examples of HRD.

Increased hereditary risk of ovarian cancer occurs in people who have inherited gene changes from one or both of their parents. The gene variations were present in their mother’s egg and/or their father’s sperm, and can be passed down in turn to their children. These gene changes cannot “skip a generation”, though it can look that way in a family tree as relatives can have passed on the gene change, but not developed cancer themselves.

You can read more about some of the inherited gene changes associated with ovarian cancer here:

What are genetic mutations?

Ovarian cancer risk factors

If you’re diagnosed with high grade serous ovarian cancer, you should be offered BRCA gene testing and testing for Lynch syndrome, as the current guidelines recommend it. You should also be offered genetic counselling.

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].


About BRCA

About Lynch syndrome


Last updated July 2023. This page is currently under expert review.