Because gene changes (mutations) can run in families, having your family members join the MiDe Study with you is a crucial way for us to learn more about how ovarian cancer develops.

Genetics and ovarian cancer

Currently, about 15-20% of ovarian cancer cases are thought to be genetic, or due to an inherited gene passed down in families. We all have two copies of each gene; we inherit one copy from each of our parents and, if we have children, pass one of our copies to each child. People born with a change in one of these copies (also known as a mutation) may be at increased risk for one or more cancers, such as ovarian and breast cancer.

Most hereditary (linked to family genes) ovarian cancers are caused by changes in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are also linked with breast cancer and other types of cancer. In the general population, these mutations occur in one out of 400 people. However, there is a higher incidence among people of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, with almost one in 40 people carrying a mutation.

There are also other inherited genes that can cause ovarian cancer. Lynch Syndrome is another inherited condition that may increase ovarian cancer risk, though it is more commonly linked to colon cancer. A person with Lynch Syndrome who has ovaries has a 9-12% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime.

It is recommended that anyone with ovarian cancer get genetic testing to learn if they have a mutation (change) in one of these genes. However, some families with ovarian cancer do not have any known genetic mutation. In some families, cancer may be due to the environment, lifestyle, or other factors. The MiDe Study is working to identify more genetic indicators for ovarian cancer.

Prevention measures for ovarian cancer

No recommended screening methods currently exist for detecting early ovarian cancer. Some women may have transvaginal ultrasounds or a blood test (called CA-125), but these methods are not always able to to detect ovarian cancer at very early stages. Many people choose to have preventative (or prophylactic) surgery, known as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes), to significantly reduce their risk of ovarian cancer.

The MiDE Study aims to develop an early detection test for ovarian cancer using microRNAs (miRNAs), which can be found in a small blood sample. Our research has found that these microRNAs can detect the presence of ovarian cancer with up to 93% accuracy. The continuation of our research will provide a new early detection test for ovarian cancer.

For more information, please visit these sites:

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Center for BRCA and Related Genes

More about genetic testing

Learn more about inherited cancers

Learn more about ongoing research studies at DFCI

Learn more about Dr. Chowdhury’s research lab

See what Dr. Chowdhury is talking about on Twitter

See what Dr. Elias is talking about on Twitter