Ovarian Cancer Prevention & Early Detection

For Patients at High Risk

Dr. Odunsi discusses techniques, including biomarkers and genetic tests, to detect ovarian cancer at its earliest stage, increasing a patient’s chance at better outcomes.

Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, especially in its early stages. Routine pelvic exams detect only 1 in 10,000 ovarian cancers in asymptomatic patients. Thus, identifying women who are at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer is the first line of defense in stopping this disease before it progresses. 

While there are a handful of risk factors associated with ovarian cancer (age, menopausal hormone therapy, never being pregnant, personal history of other cancers), family history is the only factor known to be associated with a significant increase in ovarian cancer. 

High Risk Ovarian Cancer Clinic

Women who are above-average risk will be part of our High Risk Ovarian Cancer Clinic. Patients receive a comprehensive ovarian cancer risk assessment and genetic counseling; learn about risk reduction strategies and clinical research studies available; and are screened regularly with the most advanced diagnostics available to ensure there are no signs of developing disease. 

You may be above-average risk of developing ovarian cancer if you have a: 

  • personal history of breast cancer before the age of 45
  • male relative with breast cancer
  • personal or family history of ovarian, fallopian tube, or primary peritoneal cancer in a first or second degree relative (mother, sister, grandmother)
  • personal or family history of hereditary  non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch II) in a first or second degree relative 
  • personal or family history of a BRCA mutation

We follow NCCN recommended guidelines for screening these high-risk patients. This includes transvaginal ultrasound and serum CA-125 measurement every six months for women with a genetic predisposition for developing ovarian cancer. CA-125 is a substance found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells and on some normal tissues. A high CA-125 level could be a sign of cancer or other conditions.

For women at average risk for developing ovarian cancer (those without a familial link or personal history), screening is not recommended.

A Life-Saving Registry

Under the direction of Shashikant Lele, MD, Clinical Chief of Gynecologic Oncology at RPCI, the Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry began at Roswell Park more than 30 years ago in an effort to teach us more about familial ovarian cancer. This national computer tracking system stores data compiled from women nationwide who have a family history of ovarian cancer. With this information, researchers hope to identify new genes associated with ovarian cancer in order to improve genetic and psychosocial counseling for these patients and also evaluate lifestyle choices that may reduce ovarian cancer risk among this population.

Women over the age of 18 with a family history of ovarian cancer are encouraged to join the Registry. For more information, call 1-800-OVARIAN (1-800-682-7426) weekdays from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. EST.

Genetic Counseling/Testing

Roswell Park offers genetic counseling by health care professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. During a genetic counseling consultation, information and support is provided to individuals who have a personal or family history of cancer and who may be at risk for an inherited condition like ovarian cancer.

If genetic testing is recommended, blood tests will be performed to identify the presence of particular genes. Many cases of inherited breast and ovarian cancer involve alterations in two genes, designated BRCA1 and BRCA2 (for breast cancer 1 and breast cancer 2). These tests may confirm a specific gene change (mutation) as the likely cause of a diagnosed cancer and possibly modify medical management. All results are kept confidential and reviewed with the individual by a member of the Clinical Genetics Service.