Thinking about inherited risk

Women may come to you with fears of their inherited risk of ovarian cancer.

If you believe that your patient has sufficient family history of cancer to be concerned, you can refer her to your nearest genetics clinic for an appointment with a  genetics counsellor.

There are 23 regional genetics services covering different parts of the UK you can find the nearest service to you here, if you have any questions you can contact them directly.

Family history

  • Ovarian or breast cancer is in her family

If two or more relatives from the same side of your patient’s family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50 years, or there have been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in her family she may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.

This is because she might have inherited a faulty gene (known as the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) that creates a greater chance of developing ovarian cancer.

She is more likely to carry this mutation if she’s of Ashkenazi Jewish, Icelandic, Norwegian, Dutch, Pakistani or Polish descent. 

You might like to suggest she use our BRCA Risk Tool to discover if her family history is putting her at risk of ovarian cancer.

  • Ovarian, womb, colon, bowel or stomach cancer are in her family

A rare condition called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), which runs in families, can slightly increase her risk of developing ovarian cancer.

It can also increase her risk of developing bowel, womb, stomach, colon, pancreatic, biliary and bladder cancer. HPNCC is caused by inherited gene mutations (known as the MLH1, MSH2 and MSH6 mutations).

Getting older

Your patient’s risk of developing ovarian cancer increases as she get older and most ovarian cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50 years. However, some types of ovarian cancer do appear in much younger women.

Other risk factors

In addition to age and family history, the following may slightly increase her risk of ovarian cancer:

  • Being obese
  • A long menstrual history - which can result from one or more of the following:
    • Starting your period before 12
    • Going through the menopause after 50
    • Having your first child after 30
    • Not having any children
    • Not breast feeding
  • Endometriosis (a condition of the womb)
  • Using oestrogen-only hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Smoking, which may increase your risk of developing mucinous ovarian cancer