How can I know if I have a genetic risk of getting ovarian cancer?

David A. Fishman, MD
Gynecologic Oncology
Cancer risk assessment is a complicated process that should be performed by a physician or genetic counselor with special training in cancer genetics. While some families will have histories that clearly suggest hereditary cancer susceptibility, the pattern is less than clear in most families. Small family size, the presence of few female relatives, or relatives who have died young due to other causes are factors that may obscure signs of hereditary susceptibility, even if it is present.

In addition, reports of cancer diagnoses among more distant relatives are notoriously inaccurate. For example, ovarian cancer may have been referred to as “stomach” cancer, or relatives may be aware of the site of cancer metastasis rather than the site of the original tumor. Genetic counselors help their clients obtain medical records of family members and other necessary information that may be crucial to the overall risk assessment.

Genetic consultation provides women with an estimate of their cancer risk and identifies individuals who may be appropriate for genetic testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 (tumor suppressor genes) mutations. Genetic testing is performed only after the potential benefits, risks and limitations of testing are discussed at length. Whether or not to have genetic testing is ultimately up to each individual.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.