Ovarian cancer is a genetic disease. Researchers have identified several genetic mutations that can increase ovarian cancer risk, including BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Ovarian cancer is where abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the ovaries, fallopian tube, or peritoneum. Genetics can influence the risk of any form of cancer, including ovarian cancer.

Keep reading to learn more about how genes influence ovarian cancer risk.

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All forms of cancer are genetic diseases, including ovarian cancer.

Genes provide instructions for making proteins. Proteins are central to how a cell functions in the body.

Some genetic abnormalities cause cells to become cancerous, where they grow and divide uncontrollably. For example, they could provide instructions for cells to produce proteins that rapidly increase how quickly cells grow.

These genetic abnormalities can pass down through families, or they can occur at some point across a person’s lifespan. Hereditary genetic mutations account for around 5-10% of all cancers. However, this figure varies depending on the type of cancer.

For example, one 2015 study estimated that around 23% of ovarian cancers are primarily due to hereditary factors. Family genetics is the biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer.

Mutations in some genes can increase the risk of ovarian cancer in families. According to the American Cancer Society, some inherited genetic mutations linked to ovarian cancer include:

However, they point out most genetic mutations related to ovarian cancer occur after birth. These are known as acquired genetic mutations, and it is unclear why they occur for ovarian cancer.

Examples of acquired genetic mutations include the TP53 tumor suppressor gene or the HER2 oncogene. There are typically multiple genetic mutations causing ovarian cancer, and some have links to multiple cancers.

For example, the TP53 gene is the most commonly mutated gene in all cancers.

Learn more about the genes that cause cancer here.

It is currently unclear what causes ovarian cancer, but several factors have associations with an increased risk. Risk factors for ovarian cancers in addition to genetic mutations include:

Learn about the early signs of ovarian cancer here.

People who experience new signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer lasting longer than 2 weeks should see a doctor for testing. These can include:

  • bloating
  • pain in the stomach or pelvis
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • problems going to the bathroom, such as urgently or frequently needing the toilet

A doctor might use various tests to diagnose ovarian cancer. For example, they might use an ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI scan. Diagnosis could also involve blood tests, biopsies, or a colonoscopy.

Anyone with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer could also receive genetic testing. This is where doctors will check for certain genes related to ovarian and other types of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is not necessary for people without symptoms to undergo screening for ovarian cancer. There are no simple and reliable ways to screen for ovarian cancer in people without symptoms. But some screening methods include:

Learn more about blood tests for cancer here.

People at a higher risk of ovarian cancer due to their genetics can choose to undergo screening. Some doctors may offer transvaginal ultrasounds or CA-125 assays in these cases.

However, the National Cancer Institute states that screening tests do not reduce the chances of dying from ovarian cancer. The tests also have risks of their own to consider.

People at higher risk due to hereditary factors may wish to consider various management and prevention strategies. These may include:

  • counseling from a genetic counselor
  • regular transvaginal ultrasounds and CA-125 blood tests
  • birth control pills
  • prophylactic surgery

Anyone experiencing signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer should see a gynecologic oncologist regardless of their genetic risk. Early detection is crucial to the successful treatment of ovarian cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, protective factors for ovarian cancer include:

These factors can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. However, they also have risks of their own to consider. For example, oral contraceptives can increase the risk of breast cancer and blood clots.

Learn more about using birth control long term.

Doctors will suggest treatment options depending on several factors, such as cancer severity and the person’s overall health. Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery to remove cancerous tissue and chemotherapy to kill other cancerous cells.

In some cases, doctors may use targeted therapy. This involves drugs that identify and attack specific cancer cells. It typically has fewer side effects than chemotherapy.

Learn more about treatments for ovarian cancer here.

Ovarian cancer is a genetic disease that occurs when mutations of certain genes cause cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably.

There are specific gene mutations that are linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2.

People without signs or symptoms do not necessarily require regular screening, even if they have these genetic mutations. There is a lack of reliable methods to screen for ovarian cancer for people without symptoms. The screening methods also carry risks.

However, anyone experiencing signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer should see a doctor for testing.

Early detection is vital to successfully treating ovarian cancer.