Women who have ovarian cancer should get genetic testing for the benefit of family members, suggests a new study from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and two other hospitals in Montreal.
‘One of the most lethal cancers’
“Ovarian cancer is classified as one of the most lethal cancers,” says Patricia Tonin, a scientist with the MUHC research institute and professor at McGill University. “The disease is often diagnosed in an advanced stage. There are not very effective methods for cancer screening to identify the disease at an early stage. And the current methods that are used to treat the disease eventually fail.
“So we wanted to identify people at increased risk to be able to reduce their chance of developing a lethal disease.”
ListenMales may unknowingly carry and pass on mutation
Using tissue or blood samples from 400 women with ovarian cancer, researchers found that 20 per cent of them have a mutation in genes BRCA1 or BRCA2. That is a greater proportion than was previously believed. This mutation, which also increases the risk for breast cancer, can be passed on in families, but it may not make itself known if it is passed on through males.
In the past, screening for ovarian cancer was only done on women who had a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. But this study suggests that all women who have ovarian cancer should be tested for the mutations. And those who test positive should inform their own siblings or descendants who may also carry the mutation and be at higher risk of ovarian and breast cancer. They could then be offered strategies to help prevent the disease.
In Canada, about 2,600 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and over 17,000 currently have the disease. The rate is similar to that in the United States, Europe and other countries which track it.