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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Ovarian Cancer Risk for Ashkenai Women

Did you know that one in forty individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent carry a genetic mutation which greatly increases the risk of developing not only breast cancer, but ovarian cancer too?

Ovarian cancer is diagnosed in over 25,000 women each year in the United States, and each year over 16,000 women die from the disease.

To help prevent ovarian cancer deaths, women should be aware of their risk factors, be familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and know what steps to take to prevent the disease.

The Genetic Link

Family history is a key element in assessing your risk for ovarian cancer.

About 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carry a genetic predisposition to developing ovarian cancer (they have a mutation in either their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene). The average woman’s risk for ovarian cancer is less than 2 percent, but the risk in a woman who has a BRCA mutation is up to 54 percent.

Women with BRCA mutations have very high risks for both breast and ovarian cancer. Therefore, any Jewish individual with a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer may want to consider genetic testing for BRCA mutations. Both men and women can have BRCA mutations, and it is important for people of both genders to examine their family history. Men with BRCA mutations do not have the high cancer risks seen in women, but they can carry the mutation and pass it on to their children.

Reducing Your Risk

If you have a personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, ask your doctor or genetic counselor if genetic testing may be appropriate for you. If you are at high risk for ovarian cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce that risk.

There are no current methods for effectively detecting ovarian cancer early, however, women at high risk may become a part of the Northwestern Ovarian Cancer Early Detection and Prevention Program (NOCEDPP). For more information, contact the program at 312-926-6606.


If you or a loved one has been told you may have or do have ovarian cancer, and you’d like to be evaluated or treated by one of the gynecologic oncologists at Northwestern Memorial, call 312-695-0990. An intake nurse will help you decide if a gynecologic cancer specialist is the right doctor for you, and may ask for your medical records or doctor’s referral.

If you don’t have a doctor or would like to make an appointment with a gynecologist for the first time, call 877-926-4664 or request an appointment online.

 The ovarian cancer section was made possible by a generous grant from Bears Care.

Last UpdateJune 15, 2011