Image of DNA

A family history of breast, ovarian and some other cancers can suggest that a gene change is being inherited through generations. This gene mutation increases the risk of developing certain cancers, including ovarian. 

The two best known genes involved in inherited (familial) ovarian cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA stands for breast cancer). These gene changes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and can be inherited from male as well as female family members.  

Around 15 to 17 per cent of cases of ovarian cancer are thought to be linked to these genes, so many families affected by the disease are looking for information on genetic testing.


Can I have a genetic test to see if I will develop ovarian cancer?

You can discuss your family history of ovarian, breast and other cancers with your GP, or oncologist or CNS and ask to be referred to a cancer genetic centre.  Most cancer genetic cancer centres offer testing to families with at least two people affected by ovarian or breast cancer from the mother’s or father’s side.

Genetic testing is a complex process.  The two genes involved,  BRCA1 and BRCA2, are very long. Changes can occur at any point along the length and different families have different mutations.  The first step is to take a blood sample from a family member with ovarian or breast cancer and identify the fault from that sample.  Genetic testing can then be offered to other family members if they want to know whether they have inherited the mutation.

Of course, you do not have to take up the offer of a genetic test. Some people may simply not wish to know.


What are the options if I am found to have a gene variation?

The decisions that you make if you have inherited a BRCA gene variation will depend on your age and circumstances.  Those with a BRCA gene change may be offered surgery to remove their ovaries and fallopian tubes, to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.  If you were planning to have children it may change your ideas on when, so that you can time risk-reducing surgery to fit your needs.

You may instead choose to use information to look out for signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and report these to your GP if they occur, along with your family history and genetic information.There is more information in our booklet here

If you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene change you are also at increased risk of breast cancer and again the options are similar;  you may be offered screening in the form of a regular mammography to pick up any early breast cancer.  You may also be offered surgery: a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts, to prevent the development of breast cancer.


What if I have not inherited a gene variation?

If you do not have the gene variation which runs in your family, then your chance of developing ovarian or breast cancer is no higher than anyone else your age in the population, and therefore extra screening will be stopped. You will still be encouraged to join the National Breast Screening Programme when you are 50.


My parent has ovarian cancer, should I be screened?

If your parent is the only person in the close family who has developed ovarian cancer or breast cancer, then your risk of ovarian cancer is only slightly increased. There is currently no national screening programme for ovarian cancer available on the NHS.


I have ovarian cancer. What’s the risk for my children?

If you have not inherited the gene mutation which runs in your family, extra screening is not necessary. The risk to those in this group is slightly, but not greatly, increased. However, the risk is increased if more family members have developed ovarian or breast cancer.

The current view is that the value of ovarian cancer screening for your children is uncertain. There is ongoing research into ovarian cancer screening programmes. It has not yet been demonstrated that screening for ovarian cancer can save people's lives, so a national screening programme is not available at present.


Watch Genetic testing, an Ovacome webinar with Dr Terri McVeigh, Consultant Clinical Geneticist at The Royal Marsden NHS Trust



For more information please call Ovacome’s  Freephone support line on 0800 008 7054 or email us at [email protected]

Ovarian Cancer Action have a lot of useful information about hereditary ovarian cancer and gene mutations on their website at their BRCA Hub. 


Last review August 2020

Date of next review August 2022