World Ovarian Cancer Day signals a time when people unite to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and the importance of family health history in the fight against the disease. With Mother’s Day approaching this month as well, this is an ideal opportunity to talk about an issue that impacts women and families everywhere; and to empower women to talk to their loved ones about shared medical history, ovarian cancer risks and genetic/tumor testing.
What’s become increasingly clear as science and medicine continue to evolve is that some diseases can be caused by or influenced by one’s genes, some of which might be passed down and/or shared among family members. The risk of developing ovarian cancer, as an example, is increased if your mother or sister has or had ovarian or breast cancer, and women with a certain mutation in the BReast CAncer susceptibility (BRCA) gene have up to a 39% chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 70.  Normally BRCA genes work to suppress tumors from growing. However, when these genes are mutated, they are no longer able to help suppress tumors, leading to an increased risk of cancer. Mutations in the BRCA gene are associated with a variety of cancers such as breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.
Knowing your BRCA mutation status can inform you of your cancer risk, but it can also be a source of guilt and an emotional barrier when it comes to discussing risk status with family members because of the possibility of passing the mutation, and in turn the increased health risks, on to one’s children.