Getting tested

Find out what the genetic test involves and possible results, as well as what you need to think about before deciding whether to start the testing process.

What should I do if I think I have hereditary ovarian cancer?

Your oncologist or another member of your medical team may have already talked to you about genetic testing. Many hospitals offer genetic testing in the same place that you’re having or had your treatment (the oncology clinic). This is called mainstreaming. Others may refer people to a genetics centre (a specialist clinic that looks at everything to do with medical genetics including genetic testing) for a more in-depth conversation about genetic testing.

If you've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and not offered genetic testing, arrange to talk with your oncologist and discuss whether you may be eligible. There might be reasons why genetic testing isn’t appropriate for you and your team can discuss this with you. If you haven't been offered a test and you're still wondering whether genetic testing might be right for you, you may still be able to ask for a referral to a genetics centre via your GP or oncologist. Find your nearest genetics centre.

You may then be offered the option to speak with a genetic counsellor to help you decide whether or not a genetic test is appropriate for you. They'll also talk to you about what the impact would be for you and your family members if you do go ahead.

What should I consider before having a genetic test?

There are some important things to think about before going ahead with genetic testing. In particular you should think about the impact of the testing on yourself and on those who are close to you. It's important that you have a chance to discuss all your concerns and uncertainties about genetic testing before you decide whether or not to have the test.

Your medical team should give you written information about genetic testing and you should have the option to ask them any questions that you might have. It's important to tell your team if you still have unanswered questions or if there's anything you're not sure about after your discussion with them. If you haven’t spoken to one already, it might be helpful for you to be referred to a genetics counsellor before deciding whether to have genetic testing.

Considerations for you

Some people find it helpful to have an explanation for why they developed cancer. There could be other implications for you if you have a hereditary cancer risk as you’ll have an increased risk of developing other cancers. In the case of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes you'll have a higher risk of developing breast cancer (in comparison to the general population). Your options for managing this risk will depend on your current cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The results of genetic testing may also impact your ovarian cancer treatment.

Our information focuses on information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants as they account for most hereditary ovarian cancers. For the most up-to-date information about genetic testing, please contact our support line.

More about the impact of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants on you

Considerations for your family

Other members of your family may also have the gene variant if you do. This can include your mother or father, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, depending on which side of the family the variant is passed down.

If you have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 variant your children have a 50 per cent (one in two) chance of having inherited it and therefore being at increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer. They also have a 50 per cent (one in two) chance of having inherited a normal copy of the gene from you if you have the gene variant. In that case, they would not have an increased risk of cancer.

More about the impact of a positive test result on your family

It can be very helpful to discuss genetic testing with your relatives at an early stage. If you have contact with your local genetics centre before deciding about genetics testing, they will talk about these issues with you in more detail.

Who’s at risk with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene variant?

Anyone with a variant on the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene is at a higher risk of developing cancer:

  • Women, trans men, non-binary people with ovaries, and some people with differences in sex development with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene variant have a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. If you’ve had surgery that’s removed your breasts or ovaries your risk is lower, but a small risk still remains.

  • Men, trans women, non-binary people with a prostate, and some people with differences in sex development:

    • have a smaller increased risk of developing male breast cancer but no increased risk of prostate cancer with a BRCA1 variant.

    • have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer and male breast cancer with a BRCA2 gene variant.

  • There may also be a small increased risk of pancreatic cancer for anyone of any sex who carries the BRCA2 variant. 

When should I have genetic testing?

If you're eligible for a genetic test, it's important to ask yourself "When is the right time for me to have genetic testing?"

If you feel that now isn’t the right time to have genetic testing, you may choose to think about it again at a later stage. You may be able to have DNA stored (from a blood sample) so that it’s available for genetic testing in the future.

The genetic test and possible results

The stages of a genetic test:

1. Deciding if the test is right for you

In many places genetic testing is done by the same team and in the same place as your ovarian cancer treatment. This means that someone in your medical team will speak to you about genetic testing during one of your oncology appointments.

You may be asked to complete a form about your family history. You may find it helpful to talk to your family members to gather as much information as possible. Don't worry if you can’t answer any/all of these questions. Many people don't know about their family history and it’s important to remember that not knowing won't affect your access to testing.

During the appointment you'll be given information about what a genetic test involves and what the results might mean for you and your family. You'll also be able to ask questions. It's important that you take your time to think about whether you want to have the test. Some centres will want you to wait until your next appointment to decide. If you're struggling with the decision you should be given the option to talk to someone about your feelings, such as a genetic counsellor.

If your treatment centre doesn't offer genetic testing then your oncologist can refer you to the local genetics centre for the test. You'll be asked to make an appointment to visit the genetics centre where a clinical geneticist (a doctor who specialises in genetics) or a genetic counsellor will discuss with you what is involved in a test and what this might mean for you and your family.

2. Having the genetic test (blood test)

After this, if you choose to go ahead with the test, you'll have some blood taken to be tested. In lots of oncology clinics this will happen during your next routine blood test (for example a blood test before having chemotherapy). In other oncology clinics you may have the choice to go back to the clinic at a different time because your appointment is too soon or not soon enough.

Your blood sample will be sent to a genetics laboratory to be tested. In some places, you'll be given a choice of how you'd like to receive the results of the test – whether by phone or in writing, or sometimes face to face.

3. Receiving the result

The time it takes for the blood test to be looked at and the results to be available varies slightly between the genetics centres. You'll be told how long it will take for yours. It's usually between four and eight weeks.

When you're told about your test result, you'll be given some more information about what the results mean and what the next steps are. You'll also be able to speak with your treatment team in the oncology clinic (or the genetics team at the genetics centre) who will talk you through your result and the next steps in as much detail as you need.

The possible results of a genetic test and what they might mean for you

Our information focuses on information about BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene variants as they account for most hereditary ovarian cancers. For the most up-to-date information about genetic testing, please contact our support line.

Last reviewed: November 2022

To learn more about our review process, take a look at our information standards.

Genetics guide

Genetic testing and hereditary ovarian cancer guide