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Risk of Ovarian Cancer in Women with BRCA Mutations

Conventional wisdom has focused on the incidence of cancer in one's family history to assess one's risk of developing that cancer. Genetic markers have now been shown to be a more relevant piece of information, at least for ovarian cancer. Findings published in the journal Science (10/24/03) have shown that the risk for developing ovarian cancer in women who have tested positive for the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genetic mutations is equally high for women regardless of their family history of breast or ovarian cancer. This study evaluated 1,008 Ashkenazi Jewish women over 5 years in the New York City area.

While we have known for years that the presence of BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genetic mutations would increase a woman's risk for ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer, it was assumed that a woman without a family history of either of these cancers was less at risk than a woman who had one or more first degree relatives with one or both of those cancers. In this study, however, researchers found that half of the patients studied who had inherited mutations in these genes had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer. In nearly all of those women, their BRCA mutations were inherited from their fathers.

Regardless of family history status, this study calculated that the lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for women with BRCA-1 mutations was 54% and for women with BRCA-2 mutations it was 23%. This study also concluded that exercise and a healthy body weight in adolescence were associated with a significantly delayed risk of breast cancer onset, but had no affect on the incidence or onset of ovarian cancer.

Created: 2/16/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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