All women diagnosed with invasive epithelial ovarian cancer as well as those with fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer, regardless of their age or family history, are encouraged to seek advice regarding genetic testing.
If you have not been offered genetic testing, we recommend you ask your specialist about this.
Cancer Australia recommends a woman with ovarian cancer should be offered genetic testing for a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene if:
- she has Grade 2 or 3 invasive non-mucinous ovarian cancer diagnosed at 70 years or younger; or
- she has invasive non-mucinous ovarian cancer and a personal history of breast cancer (regardless of age); or
- she has invasive non-mucinous ovarian cancer and a family history of breast or ovarian cancer (regardless of age); or
- she is from a population known to have a higher risk of faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (such as Ashkenazi Jewish women); or
- her ovarian cancer has come back after treatment with a platinum-based treatment, and meets the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) criteria for treatment with a Poly ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitor.
It is important to have a discussion with your doctor about genetic testing as there may be other reasons for you to be tested for gene mutations.
Your doctor may refer you to a Family Cancer Clinic to discuss genetic testing or they may facilitate the testing themselves. If you find out you have inherited a faulty gene that has caused your ovarian cancer, you should be referred to a Family Cancer Clinic who can discuss the results with you in greater detail. Your genetic test result can sometimes change your treatment plan and follow-up care. It may also enable you to enter certain clinical trials. There are new drugs called ‘PARP (poly ADPribose polymerase) inhibitors’ that may be offered to women who have BRCA gene faults.
If a faulty gene associated with a higher risk of ovarian cancer is found, the genetic counsellor will suggest offering genetic testing to other family members. If other family members have inherited a faulty gene associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer, a gynaecological oncologist can advise about ways to reduce their risk.
Tumour genetic testing:
Cancer usually develops as a result of genetic changes in cells which cause abnormal growth. Unlike inherited genetic faults, these genetic faults occur after a person is born and are called somatic mutations and are only found in the cancer cells. Sometimes women will be offered genetic testing of their tumour tissue to look at the somatic mutations in the tumour. Identifying somatic mutations may help identify targeted treatment options. Inherited genetic faults may also be identified through the process of tumour genetic testing.
Some women are concerned about the impact genetic test results will have on their current or future insurance policies. Health insurance is not based on a risk assessment of your health and therefore genetic testing should not affect health insurance policies. Life insurance and similar products may be impacted by genetic testing. For up to date information regarding insurance and genetic testing, please see the Centre for Genetics Education factsheet on Life Insurance Products and Genetic Testing in Australia. Read the factsheet here.
Guide to genetic testing and hereditary ovarian cancer