March 2015

The decision of actress Angelina Jolie to have preventative surgery to prevent ovarian cancer is currently attracting lots of attention in the news. Australian women may be curious to know more about ovarian cancer and the BRCA genes.

In Australia, around 1 in 81 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime and around 1330 new cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed each year.

It is estimated that up to 10 per cent of ovarian cancer cases are linked to known genetic risks, with a small percentage of women carrying the BRCA genes linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Women with a history of breast or ovarian cancer in their family who are concerned about their genetic risk can discuss this with their doctor, who can advise on whether or not genetic testing is appropriate for them.

Preventative surgery on the basis of genetic risk to ovarian cancer is a complex issue. We recommend anyone considering this form of surgery to make an informed decision by gaining expert advice.

There is no screening test for ovarian cancer, but women should be aware of some of the signs and symptoms, which include:

  • persistent abdominal pain
  • pelvic or back pain
  • cramps, swelling, bloating
  • symptoms of urinary frequency or changed bowel habits with constipation or diarrhoea and/or nausea
  • fullness after food, weight loss, loss of appetite
  • tiredness
  • painful intercourse or vaginal bleeding.

If you have questions about ovarian cancer, you can call Cancer Council support and information on 13 11 20.