Ovarian Cancer: How History Predicts the Future

During Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month this September, familiarize yourself with your family’s medical history so you know you risks of developing certain illnesses, such as ovarian cancer. It could save your life.

One of the most powerful predictors of ovarian cancer risks is the knowledge of family history. So gynecologic oncologists are leveraging family histories at the genetic level to make timely ovarian cancer diagnoses for women who may be at risk.

Some ovarian cancer cases are hereditary, meaning they are passed on to family members through inherited gene mutations. In fact, about 5 percent to 10 percent of women are genetically at risk for developing ovarian or breast cancer. Ninety percent of ovarian cancer cases are non-inherited or “sporadic.”

Hereditary ovarian cancers more often develop earlier in life than non-inherited cases. Different types of gene changes or mutations can trigger ovarian cancer. They are referred to as germline, where mutations are passed on to offspring through reproductive cells, and somatic, where DNA changes occur within cells after conception.

Other risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

• Age (It is most common in women ages 50 to 60)
• Having few or no children
• Early onset menstruation
• Late-age menopause
• Breaks in oral contraceptive use

Taking oral contraceptives for five consecutive years is a protective measure associated with reduced risk for cancer. Also, recognizing genetic risk indicators, such as mutations in the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 tumor suppressor genes and Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer syndrome), is key to getting a timely diagnosis and lifesaving treatment. Based on family history and general risk factors, women should seek out genetic counseling or testing if they receive abnormal results during a medical exam.

About the Author:
An expert in minimally invasive surgery, Veronica Schimp, DO, is chief of gynecologic oncology at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. She is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology as well as gynecologic oncology.


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