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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.


BRCA mutations are inherited abnormalities in two genes in the human body: BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes normally help to make proteins that repair damaged DNA and keep tumors from growing. Women who inherit mutations in these two genes have an increased risk for ovarian cancer, breast cancer, and other types of cancer.

Genetic Testing for BRCA Mutations

If you’ve been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, your doctor may suggest genetic testing for BRCA mutations, especially if ovarian cancer runs in your family.

The test is a simple blood test. Several different versions are available.

Before and after testing, you’ll likely be asked to meet with a genetic counselor. They will discuss the benefits and risks of the genetic test and what the results may mean for you and your family.

Knowing whether or not you have a BRCA mutation will help doctors make the best possible treatment plan for your advanced ovarian cancer. It may also help to prevent future episodes of cancer in other family members.

Treatment for Advanced Ovarian Cancer

A number of medical studies have suggested that ovarian cancers linked to particular BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may respond differently to clinical treatments than cancers that aren’t associated with these mutations.

Specific treatment options for women with advanced ovarian cancer linked to BRCA mutations are limited. In late 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a new class of drugs, Lynparza (olaparib), to treat advanced ovarian cancer in women with BRCA gene mutations.

Lynparza is recommended for women with both advanced ovarian cancer and specific BRCA gene mutations that have undergone at least three previous rounds of chemotherapy.

In a clinical trial of 137 women, about one-third of the women who received the new drug had their tumors shrink or disappear for an average of eight months before the tumors started to grow again.

Medical researchers are also studying new ways to treat ovarian cancer in women with BRCA mutations. If you have advanced ovarian cancer with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, talk with your doctor about whether enrolling in a clinical trial may be a good option for you.

Other Benefits of BRCA Genetic Testing

If you have advanced ovarian cancer, getting tested for BRCA gene mutations can help other women in your family understand their risk for ovarian cancer.

BRCA mutations are inherited. This means that if you test positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, there’s a greater chance that close family members may carry the same gene mutation.

Other women in your family may choose to meet with a genetic counselor to discuss whether they should also have a genetic test.

But it’s not just women that can benefit from the knowledge. Male family members can inherit a BRCA mutation too. Men with a BRCA mutation may have an increased risk for prostate cancer or male breast cancer.

Some ways to reduce cancer risk in women with BRCA gene mutations may include:

  • earlier or more frequent cancer screenings
  • risk-reducing medications
  • prophylactic surgery (removal of breast tissue or ovaries)

While no one can change their genes, a genetic counselor can help in the decision process about what steps to take to reduce your risk of ovarian and other cancers.