Do You Have Cancer in Your Family?

Katherine Hale, Head of Healthcare & Education at Ovarian Cancer Action

30th July 2019

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, with 7,400 new cases diagnosed each year. What’s more, UK ovarian cancer survival rates rank 45th out of 59 countries across the globe, according to research published in The Lancet. The data, from 2010-2014 found only 36.2 per cent of women survive five years beyond diagnosis.

Currently one of the biggest barriers for treating ovarian cancer is late diagnosis – the symptoms are vague and there is no reliable screening tool to detect the cancer in its earliest stages. Discovering your genetic status and taking preventative action has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Around 15% of ovarian cancers are caused by inherited genetic faults, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. These faults can be inherited from the mother or the father’s side and can lead to a greater risk of an individual developing ovarian, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer.

The problem is that 7 in 10 people have never heard of the BRCA gene mutation. This in turn means that many people are unaware of their cancer risk and therefore denied the opportunity to take potentially life-saving preventative measures.

A patient that knows their genetic status means they have the knowledge that could:

  • Help them and their family members prevent cancer in the first place e.g. risk reducing surgery or chemoprevention
  • Mean they are eligible for more regular screening
  • Improve their chances of early diagnosis
  • Impact their treatment options if they have been diagnosed with cancer (e.g. accessing PARP inhibitors, which have been shown to be particularly effective for ovarian cancer patients with a BRCA mutation).

Hereditary ovarian cancer is preventable when people are armed with the relevant knowledge.

Ovarian Cancer Action, The Eve Appeal, Ovacome and BRCA Umbrella have joined together in a new campaign to increase both patient and GP awareness of hereditary cancer. The organisations have sent information posters to more than 1,000 GP surgeries across the UK. Over 100 of these surgeries have also been telephoned and asked if they need additional information or support.

In reaching out to GPs in this way the charities hope to provide a useful reminder to patients and GPs through the poster display, but also the opportunity to provide tailored information and ongoing support to local practices.

The next stage in the campaign is to reach the general public through social media, encouraging patients to take posters to their local surgeries if they haven’t seen one in there already. The charities have also created new webpages with further information for both patients and GPs to access if they have further questions.

We hope this two-pronged approach will inspire and empower patients and GPs to have a conversation about family history. This short conversation could have life-saving effects.

If you would like to request physical copies of the BRCA awareness poster to be displayed in your practice, please email