Online tool can calculate women’s genetic risk of ovarian cancer

A new online tool has been created to help thousands of women understand their inherited risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Created by Ovarian Cancer Action, the tool asks women a series of questions about their health and family history to work out their risk level.

More than 1,000 women a year develop ovarian cancer due to inherited genes – and it could be diagnosed earlier if people know their risk, the charity said.

The tool comes after Theresa May announced increasing numbers of cancer cases will be diagnosed with artificial intelligence, including ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian Cancer Action hopes its tool will help women be proactive about their own health.

Take the quiz here

Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages because its symptoms are similar to other digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome so can be misdiagnosed or unnoticed

The hereditary risk tool can be used online at this link. 

Users are asked whether anyone in their family has tested positive for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation or Lynch syndrome.

Women with the BRCA gene mutations are more likely to develop ovarian cancer, and also have a higher risk of breast cancer.

Those with the BRCA2 mutation have a 20 per cent lifetime risk of cancer of the ovary, and those with BRCA1 have a 40 per cent risk, according to the charity.

Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at a significantly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than the general population

Women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation are at a significantly higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than the general population

The tool then asks users to give details of a history of cancer on each parent’s side of the family, and whether they have Jewish heritage. 

Research shows people with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are significantly more likely to have inherited a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

At the end of the questions the tool reveals the user’s estimated risk of developing ovarian cancer, and suggests what action – if any – they should take.

‘Genetic testing is one of our strongest weapons for fighting this disease’ 

Joanne Stanford, hereditary cancer specialist at Ovarian Cancer Action said: ‘Every time a person with a genetic mutation is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it represents a cancer prevention failure. 

‘Along with genetic counsellors, we want to ensure individuals can make informed decisions around surveillance, preventative surgeries and its considerations, such as family planning.


About 80 per cent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease.

At the time of diagnosis, 60 per cent of ovarian cancers will have already spread to other parts of the body, bringing the five-year survival rate down.

It’s diagnosed so late because of its location in the pelvis, according to Dr Ronny Drapkin, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who’s been studying the disease for more than two decades.

‘The pelvis is like a bowl, so a tumor there can grow quite large before it actually becomes noticeable,’ Dr Drapkin told Daily Mail Online. 

Dr Drapkin said it’s usually not until after a patient endures persistent gastrointestinal symptoms that they will receive a screening that reveals the cancer.

‘Ovarian cancer is often said to be a silent killer because it doesn’t have early symptoms, when in fact it does have symptoms, they’re just very general and could be caused by other things,’ he said.

‘One of the things I tell women is that nobody knows your body as well as you do. If you feel something isn’t right, something’s probably not right.’

‘Genetic testing is one of our strongest weapons in the fight against this disease. To understand your risk of hereditary cancer, all you need is a few minutes and some information about your family history of cancer; it could change your life.’

Cancer of the ovaries is one of the most common forms of the disease in women. It strikes more than 7,000 women in the UK and 20,000 in the US each year.

It mainly affects those who have been through the menopause but it can sometimes affect younger women.

Symptoms may be misdiagnosed because they are similar to IBS

Symptoms include feeling full quickly, a loss of appetite, persistent pain in the lower abdomen, and needing to urinate more often.  

Because they are similar to other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the symptoms are sometimes not taken seriously.

This means more women are diagnosed in the late stages of their illness and treatment is more difficult, especially if the cancer has spread.

Fewer than half of patients will survive for five years 

Survival rates vary between people but according to Cancer Research UK over 70 per cent of women survive for at least a year after they are diagnosed, but only 46 per cent will survive for five years, and 35 per cent for ten years or more.

The UK has one of the worst survival rates in Europe, according to Ovarian Cancer Action.   

Dr Jonathan Krell, senior clinical lecturer in medical oncology at Imperial College London added: ‘Improving the way we select patients for cancer screening and prevention programs, and identifying those people at higher risk of developing cancer is crucial to improving survival rates. 

‘The more we know about risk, the more we can do to prevent it’ 

‘This tool will help to increase awareness of genetic abnormalities that people may have been born with that increase their risk of developing cancer, and will encourage more people to consider pursuing genetic testing. 

‘The more we know about a person’s risk of developing cancer, the more we can do to try and detect it earlier or prevent it from occurring at all through the use of drugs or surgery.

‘Optimising prevention measures in this group of women is crucial in reducing the rate of deaths from cancer.

‘I believe risk tools such as this will have a significant impact on public health.’