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You may have heard of genes that increase a woman’s chance of getting cancer.

Despite being named the BReast CAncer susceptibility gene — or BRCA — these genes have been linked to an increased risk of many cancers, including ovarian cancer.

Here are five more things you may not know about BRCA and ovarian cancer.

1. Everyone has BRCA genes.

These genes help repair cell damage and maintain normal cell growth.

It’s only when mutated versions of these genes replicate that they may become cancerous. Unfortunately, these malfunctioning genes can be passed down genetically.

2. Different BRCA mutations carry greater ovarian cancer risks.

Besides breast cancer, BRCA abnormalities can also raise a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

In women with inherited BRCA1 abnormalities, that risk is between 35 and 70 percent.

For BRCA2 gene mutations, that risk is between 10 and 30 percent by late age.

3. Some groups are at a higher risk of BRCA mutation.

While BRCA mutations are found in people all around the world, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent have about a 1 in 40 chance of having the mutation.

These mutations are also more common in people from the Netherlands, Iceland, and Norway.

4. Not everyone needs a BRCA test.

New tests of a blood sample can test your DNA for mutated BRCA cells. Since these are rare, not every woman needs to be tested.

Talk with your doctor about your potential risk factors, including a family history of breast, ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancers, and see if a BRCA test is necessary.

5. The pill could help lower your risks.

Studies on women with BRCA mutations and their risk of ovarian cancer are mixed, but an analysis done in 1992 found oral contraceptive use reduced risk by 50 percent.

Oral contraceptive use has been shown to lower ovarian cancer risks the longer women take the pill. Studies show the risk is reduced by up to 12 percent after a year on the pill. After five years, a woman’s risk is cut in half.

There you have it: Five things you may not have known about BRCA and ovarian cancer.

Knowing your BRCA mutation risk can help you and your doctor make better decisions about your health.


BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that help keep cells in the body from growing abnormally and forming tumors.

Everyone has both of these genes. But some people inherit a mutation, or defect, in one of these genes from a parent. A mutation causes the gene to not work properly. It prevents the gene from carrying out its normal activity of protecting the body from tumors.

Those with the gene mutation are more susceptible to certain cancers, including advanced ovarian cancer.

BRCA Mutations and Ovarian Cancer Risk

Inheriting a harmful BRCA gene mutation means that you have a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer than someone who doesn’t have the mutation.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 21,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. About 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are associated with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

Inheriting a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get cancer. It simply means that your chances of getting certain types of cancer, including ovarian and breast cancers, may be significantly higher than average.

Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome

If ovarian cancer runs in your family, a doctor may refer to your condition as hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC). HBOC is linked to a higher risk of ovarian, breast, and fallopian tube cancers.

A number of genetic abnormalities or defects can lead to HBOC, though BRCA mutations are most likely related. HBOC is most commonly diagnosed when there are multiple cases of breast or ovarian cancer on one side of a family.

Ovarian cancers associated with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation tend to happen at a slightly younger age than in women without HBOC.

Ovarian Cancer and BRCA Statistics

Whether you’ve inherited a BRCA mutation or not, here are some numbers and statistics to help you understand your risk for ovarian cancer:

  • About 1 out of every 75 women will get ovarian cancer during her life.
  • Less than 1 percent of people in the general population have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.
  • Without treatment, women with a BRCA mutation are 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women.
  • About 39 out of every 100 women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 gene mutation will get ovarian cancer by age 70.
  • About 11 to 17 women out of every 100 who inherit a harmful BRCA2 gene mutation will get ovarian cancer by age 70.
  • BRCA mutations are about 10 times more common in women of Ashkenazi Jewish decent than in women of different backgrounds.
  • Roughly 36 to 41 percent of Ashkenazi Jewish women with ovarian cancer also have a BRCA gene mutation.

Genetic Counseling and Testing

If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, your doctor may recommend that you meet with a genetic counselor about getting tested for BRCA gene mutations.

Genetic counselors are medical professionals that specialize in helping people understand their risk of disease. A genetic counselor can help you understand what the results of BRCA mutation testing mean for you and your family.

There are several genetic tests available that check for BRCA gene mutations. Most tests require a simple blood sample. Some can be done using a saliva sample. It usually takes about a month to find out the results.

While advanced ovarian cancer is linked to BRCA gene mutations, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be diagnosed with a gene mutation. Still, it’s important to talk with your doctor about getting tested if you’re concerned about your risk.