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Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
I had a friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer several years ago. It turns out that she had not been tested for the BRCA gene but she is now completely in favor of getting tested for that BRCA gene.
What is a BRCA gene?
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes involved with cell growth, cell division, and cell repair. Although they are most commonly associated with BReast CAncer, approximately 15% of women with ovarian cancer also have BRCA gene mutations.
There are a number of misperceptions about BRCA testing, such as the misperception that only those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or who are diagnosed at a young age should be tested. But, family history and age are poor predictors of BRCA status in ovarian cancer patients, which is why it is so important for all women with ovarian cancer to be tested.
- National guidelines from organizations such as NCCN, ASCO and SGO recommend that all patients with epithelial ovarian cancer be considered for BRCA testing, regardless of family history, age at diagnosis, or ethnicity
- Approximately 15% of women with ovarian cancer have a deleterious BRCA mutation
- Despite these guidelines, every year many patients with ovarian cancer are not tested for a BRCA1/2 mutation
- One of the reasons many patients are missed is the misperception that only those patients with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or who are diagnosed at a young age should be tested. But screening based on family history or age misses many ovarian cancer patients with a BRCA mutation:
- Family history and age at diagnosis are poor predictors of BRCA status in ovarian cancer patients
- Almost half (47%) of BRCA-positive ovarian cancer patients have no significant family history of ovarian or breast cancer9
- Over two thirds (71%) of BRCA-positive ovarian cancer patients are aged 50 or older
- A blood or saliva sample can be taken at your physician's office or at a local lab. In the United States, results are usually available in 2 to 3 weeks
- BRCA status in ovarian cancer affects treatment outcomes, and there are treatment options available specifically for women with BRCA mutations
- Personalized, or precision, medicine tailors treatment to a patient's genetic profile, and with cancer it means doctors can target the specific mutations that they know drive a disease
- This helps patients determine the right treatment options for them
- For this reason, it is important for women with ovarian cancer to receive genetic testing so that they can plan with their doctor an individual treatment plan that is optimized for their specific cancer
For patients with advanced ovarian cancer who have had multiple lines of chemotherapy, the prognosis is poor and treatment options are progressively limited with each additional line of therapy. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the Unites States in 2015, and that a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 73.
- For the 60% of ovarian cancer patients whose cancer has spread to other organs by the time of diagnosis, the five-year survival rate is only 27%
- Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and is often diagnosed late because symptoms mirror everyday ailments