Mr John Butler: BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and predisposition to ovarian cancer

Following the news that Angelina Jolie has had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce her chances of getting ovarian cancer, we asked Mr John Butler, Gynaecology Oncology Consultant at The Royal Marsden, to explain a bit more about the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer.

“In around one in eight women diagnosed with ovarian cancer the disease is caused by genetic mutations that can be passed on through the family and inherited. The most common mutations are BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“Women who have a mutation in either of these genes have a higher risk of ovarian cancer. The lifetime risk for women with the BRCA1 gene is between 40-60%, and women with BRCA2 have a 10-30% lifetime risk. The risk increases for women with either mutation from the age of 40.

“One option for these women (and the option chosen by Angelina Jolie) is a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy - the surgical removal of a woman’s ovaries and fallopian tubes before an ovarian cancer has occurred.

"Some women, particularly those who are yet to have children, may not feel that surgery is appropriate for them. It is important to discuss your options with your medical team and make the decision that is right for you.

“At The Royal Marsden, we routinely offer a genetic test for women diagnosed with non-mucinous ovarian cancer. We operate a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. If a woman with a BRCA gene mutation is considering risk-reducing surgery, she will benefit from the detailed input of our genetics team, gynaecology oncology surgeons and clinical gynae-oncology nurse specialists.”

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer was once known as a “silent” disease, because its symptoms can be vague. Evidence now shows that any of the following three symptoms, if they occur on most days may suggest ovarian cancer:

  • persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
  • increased abdominal size or persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
  • difficulty eating, and feeling full quickly

It is important to be aware of ovarian cancer symptoms and if these are present discuss them with your GP, although for most patients there will be no abnormality.

For more information, download our Beginner’s Guide to BRCA1 and BRCA2 (pdf)

Find out more

For more information about this or any other news story, contact The Royal Marsden Press Office.