A family history of breast, ovarian and some other cancers can suggest that a faulty gene 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 faulty genes increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and can be inherited from male as well as female family members.  

Around 10 per cent (1 in 10) 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. Faults 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 themutation.

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 faulty gene?

The decisions that you make if you have inherited a faulty BRCA gene will depend on your age and circumstances.  Women with a BRCA gene mutation 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.

If you have a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene 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 faulty gene?

If you do not have the faulty gene 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 mother has ovarian cancer, should I be screened?

If your mother 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 daughter?

If you have not inherited the gene mutation which runs in your family, extra screening is not necessary. The risk to women 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 daughter is uncertain. Two large screening trials are due to report their final results by 2019. If these show that screening for ovarian cancer can save womens’ lives, then a national screening programme could be introduced.

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

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

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Last review June  2018

Date of next review June 2020