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.
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.