Testing for ovarian cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give results that make it look as though someone has cancer when they do not (false positive results).
At the moment, there is no screening test reliable enough to use to pick up ovarian cancer at an early stage. Researchers are working on trying to find a sensitive screening test for ovarian cancer.
If you have a strong family history or have been diagnosed with a BRCA1/2 mutation or lynch syndrome you may be referred to a specialist clinic for follow up or you may decide to undergo preventive surgery.
Talk to your GP if you feel you or your family are at risk. And remember a smear test will not detect ovarian cancer; it is used for screening for cervical cancer.
There is no way to know for sure if you will get ovarian cancer. Most women get it without being at high risk. However, several factors may increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, including if you—
- Are middle-aged or older.
- Have close family members (such as your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother) on either your mother’s or your father’s side, who have had ovarian or breast cancer.
- Have a genetic mutation (abnormality) called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome.
- Have had breast, uterine, or colorectal (colon) cancer.
- Have an Ashkenazi Jewish background where BRCA mutations are higher.
- Have endometriosis (a condition where tissue from the lining of the uterus grows elsewhere in the body).
- Have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
In addition, some studies suggest that women who take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
If one or more of these factors is true for you, it does not mean you will get ovarian cancer. But you should speak with your doctor about your risk. If you or your family have a history of ovarian or breast cancer, also speak to your doctor about genetic counselling.