What Other Hereditary Conditions Affect Ovarian Cancer?

Anyone with ovaries can develop ovarian cancer. However, certain hereditary conditions can play a role in the development of the disease. A hereditary condition is a disease that is passed down from one or both parents to a child.

Hereditary conditions can cause a person to develop cancer at an earlier age or increase their risk for certain cancers. About 23 percent of ovarian cancers have been related to hereditary conditions, including:1

  • BRCA 1 and 2 mutations
  • Lynch syndrome
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC)

Being aware of these genetic factors can improve your care. It can help you and your doctor decide if you should have screening or evaluation tests for cancer.

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Hereditary factors do not mean you will absolutely get a disease, just that you are at higher risk for developing it. Talk with your doctor about any concerns you might have. A genetic counselor can explain the specific risks that a hereditary factor has. They can also explain how you can reduce your risk and what signs and symptoms to look for.

Lynch syndrome

Lynch syndrome is also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). It is a syndrome where inherited genetic mutations affect how DNA is repaired when DNA copies contain mistakes. It is the most common cause of hereditary colorectal cancer. It increases the risk of several other cancers, including ovarian cancer. Lynch syndrome also increases the risk of developing both colorectal and ovarian cancers at an earlier age.2,3

Research shows that Lynch syndrome contributes to about 10 to 15 percent of hereditary ovarian cancers. In families with Lynch syndrome, the lifetime risk for ovarian cancer is about 8 percent. More than 80 percent of ovarian cancers in women with Lynch syndrome are diagnosed in stage I or II.3

In contrast, more than 50 percent of ovarian cancers unrelated to hereditary factors are diagnosed in stage III or IV. Research suggests this is because women with Lynch syndrome are regularly screened for ovarian cancer, allowing doctors to find it earlier.3

Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC)

People who have hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) syndrome have a much higher risk of developing certain cancers. This includes breast cancer for both men and women, and ovarian cancer for women. People with HBOC have a higher risk of developing these cancers at an earlier age, typically before the age of 50. HBOC also increases the risk of certain other cancers, like pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer.4

The most common genetic mutations linked to HBOC syndrome are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Other specific genes that can cause inherited forms of cancer include the PALB2, RAD51C, BARD1, ATM, and CHEK2 genes. Besides having a genetic mutation, people with HBOC syndrome usually also have a family history of cancer.4

For women with HBOC syndrome, the risk for ovarian cancer can vary, depending on the gene mutation present. For BRCA1 mutations, the risk is between 39 to 63 percent. For those with BRCA2 mutations, it is between 16.5 to 27 percent. This is in contrast to the general population, where the risk for ovarian cancer is between 1 to 2 percent.4

HBOC syndrome can affect people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. However, it is more common in some populations, including those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.4

Family history

Even without a genetic mutation, having a family history of ovarian cancer may increase a person’s risk of developing the disease. Women with a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, or sister) with ovarian cancer have about a 5 percent lifetime risk of developing the disease.5

Things to consider

If you have any of these hereditary factors, talk with your doctor about your risk of developing ovarian cancer. They can tell you any steps you need to take to monitor your health and any screening tests that should be done over time.

Many people with a genetic risk factor for ovarian cancer never develop the disease, while some people with no genetic risk factors may develop ovarian cancer. Knowing about your risk can help you be mindful of your body’s symptoms, be proactive about screenings, and make informed decisions about your health.

If you have ovarian cancer and have a family history of cancer, talk with your doctor about seeing a genetic counselor for testing and counseling. A genetic counselor can explain to you what the genetic mutations mean and how they can affect the health of you and your family.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021