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Ovarian Cancer Patients Need BRCA1/2 Facts

CancerWise - May 2008

Two recent studies underscore the importance of testing women with ovarian cancer for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BRCA1/2) gene mutations to identify those with hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC), researchers say.

Women with HBOC have a 60% to 80% risk of developing breast cancer and a 20% to 40% risk of developing ovarian cancer.


Ninety percent of all ovarian cancers are not hereditary, and 10% are hereditary, mostly due to the BRCA1/2 mutations, says Karen Lu, M.D., associate professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology and senior author on both studies.

Lu presented the research in March at the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists Annual Meeting on Women's Cancers.

Significance of results

"Both of these studies illustrate that it is important for ovarian cancer patients to get information from their doctors about genetic testing, not only because the results may have implications for their family, but also because they may affect their own treatment and prognosis,” she says.

First study primary results

In the first study, researchers found that advanced-stage ovarian cancer patients with BRCA1/2 gene mutations experienced longer progression-free and overall survival than patients with non-hereditary ovarian cancer.

Patients with BRCA mutations had:

  • Progression-free survival of 28 months
  • Overall survival of 101 months

Patients without BRCA mutations had:

  • Progression-free survival of 19 months
  • Overall survival of 66 months

BRCA patients had a 2.15 times greater chance of a complete response to initial chemotherapy over non-carrier patients, Lu says.

The difference in survival rates indicates that women with BRCA mutations might respond better to standard chemotherapy than patients without BRCA mutations.

"It's unclear why these women with BRCA1/2 mutations respond better," Lu says. "There are new therapies being developed to specifically target BRCA-associated tumors. Thus, it becomes increasingly valuable to know a patient's BRCA status to guide and personalize treatment decisions."

Second study primary results

Of 225 ovarian cancer patients surveyed in the second M. D. Anderson study, 56% had not heard of BRCA testing. This lack of awareness was more profound in minorities.

These patients were unaware of BRCA testing:

  • 88% of African-Americans
  • 69% of Hispanics
  • 52% of whites

About 5% to 15% of women who develop ovarian cancer have a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. A significant number of these women have BRCA1/2 mutations.

More than 85% of the ovarian cancer patients surveyed said they would be willing to have BRCA testing if it would make a difference in their care, but the cost of testing may be a barrier.

What’s next?

"Oncologists are inconsistent in their testing for BRCA mutations,” Lu says. “Based on these studies, we recommend developing ways to systematically evaluate every ovarian cancer patient for BRCA."

- Adapted by Dawn Dorsey from an M. D. Anderson news release

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© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center