The National Cancer Institute estimates that a woman who has an altered BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene has an increased lifetime risk of ovarian cancer – roughly 16 to 60 percent versus 1.7 percent for a woman in the general population.

When Should I Suspect an Ovarian Cancer May Be Hereditary? 

When ovarian cancer is caused by a single gene mutation passed through the family you may see:

  • Ovarian cancer diagnosed at an early age (e.g. under 50)
  • Ovarian cancer and Ashkenazi ancestry
  • Multiple family members (blood relatives on the same side of the family) with breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Certain combinations of  related cancers (breast and ovary, colon and uterus)
  • An individual with two or more primary cancers, especially breast and ovarian cancer or colon and uterine in the same individual
  • Rare tumor types (e.g. fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer)

These features are only guidelines for assessing the risk for hereditary cancers.  When these factors combine with a pattern in the family history that is recognizable to your physician or genetic counselor, it may indicate a hereditary risk for cancer.  Ovarian, breast, and colon cancers are the most common types of cancer that have been linked to specific genes

Is There A Test To Determine If Ovarian Cancer Is Hereditary? 

Genetic testing is available for hereditary ovarian cancer syndromes.  The family history, ages at diagnosis and cancer types in a family are used to determine the likelihood of a hereditary cancer syndrome and, if a syndrome is suspected, which gene(s) should be analyzed.

It is generally most informative if a relative who has had cancer is tested first, to determine if an identifiable gene mutation exists in the family.  If a mutation is identified in an affected relative, at-risk family members may elect to be tested for the familial mutation; those testing positive have a significantly increased risk of developing cancer, while those relatives testing negative may be told that they have the general population risk of developing cancer. 

What should I do now? 

Please use this section as background education. It is not a substitute for a clinical visit to our Center or discussion of a possible hereditary condition with your physician.

  1. Take the next 10 to 20 minutes to fill out the online MyGenerations for an initial evaluation of your risk of ovarian cancer.
  2. Make an appointment with your physician to discuss your risk of cancer.
  3. Make an appointment with the Center for Medical Genetics by calling 847.570.1029.
  4. Email this page to a friend or loved one that may be at risk.
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