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Genetics linked to increased risk of ovarian cancer identified

A team of researchers at Brisbane’s Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Cambridge have managed to identify six separate genes which increase a woman’s individual likelihood of developing ovarian cancer.

The new breakthrough by the teams at both renowned organisations could lead to developments in treatment and ways to prevent the disease.

Currently, an Australian woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is around 1 in 100. The cancer is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’ due to its lack of detected signs and symptoms until a more advanced stage, when treatment is not always as effective.

“The problem is that the most lethal form seems to be the most difficult to detect”, says the head of the Brisbane institute’s cancer programme, “It seems to rise very quickly and give you a very narrow window of opportunity to make the diagnosis before it spreads.”

Previous research has showed the link between a woman inheriting the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and their increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, but the discovery of these six new variants of genes have identified a ‘more subtle impact’ on an individual than the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.

Professor Chenevix-Trench was a lead author in the study and said, “Individually each of these typos [genes] increases the risk of cancer by a very small amount. However, if a woman carries a large number of these typos, her risk of developing ovarian cancer may be as high as that conferred by mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2.”

New treatments could also be developed following the discovery of the six genes, specifically designed to help those with one or more of the ‘typos. Immunotherapy and gene therapy are growing in the number of approaches being used to tackle conditions such as cancer, and research such as this is just the type to help it along.

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