Most of us might have heard that if anyone in a family has cancer, then the chances of their kids or anyone in the family getting cancer are high. Well, this is the case for some of the cancers which are hereditary in nature. And ovarian hereditary cancer is one of those few cancers which can pass from one generation to another. Let’s decode the role of genes in ovarian cancer and how to know your risk of cancer. But before that, know and understand more about the genes.
Understanding about genes
In simple terms, genes are instructions made from DNA, which tell the cells in our bodies how to work. These genes make up a single chromosome, which is present as pairs in the body. In all healthy individuals, there are 23 pairs of chromosomes, one pair each inherited from the parents.
Every cell in our body contains genes that decide and control our body’s functions, growth, and appearance. However, sometimes the genes that were inherited can have certain changes, which are technically known as alterations or mutations.
Your genes and ovarian cancer
If there is a mutation in a gene that can cause cancer and can be passed on to the next generation, then there is a high risk to get cancer. For example, hereditary ovarian cancer is most commonly caused by a mutation in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. It is reported that around 1/5th of ovarian cancers are hereditary in nature and of these, 65-85% have mutations in the BRCA gene.
Everyone has tumor suppressor genes, also known as genes that prevent cancer. If there is a mutation in these genes, then the tumor suppressor genes are inactivated and the control over normal cell division is lost. This leads to uncontrolled cell division, which is seen in cancer.
These mutations are passed down through generations in a dominant pattern. For example, if a person has this gene mutation, then there is a 50% chance that the gene can be passed on to his kids.
It’s important to note that not everyone who inherits a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer but it does substantially increase the risk .
Some mutations in other genes such as RAD51C, RAD51D, and BRIP1 are also known to be associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer, but scientists have not yet found all of the genes associated with an increased risk.
Importance of genetic counseling
If you have a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, your doctor may refer you for genetic counseling. This is because mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can also cause breast cancer which in turn may also increase the risk of ovarian cancer . Genetic counselors can help by providing information, resources, and support to you and your family. Genetic counseling can help you and your family make informed decisions about genetic testing for BRCA1, BRCA2, and other inherited mutations.
Following the genetic counseling session, you may decide you don’t want genetic testing or that it is unlikely to be helpful for you or your family.
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