Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors May Include Your Father's Genes

ovarian cancer ribbon man
A man wears a teal ribbon in honor of women who have lost the battle with ovarian cancer, in Sydney, Australia, on February 22, 2011. One mutation in a gene could mean people predisposed to ovarian cancer get the disease six years earlier. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Fathers may be partially responsible for passing on to their daughters genetic risk factors for ovarian cancer, a new study published Thursday in PLoS Genetics has shown. By looking at the patterns of cancer within families, researchers found that women had a higher risk of ovarian cancer if their paternal grandmothers were afflicted by the disease.

Women with a mutation on a particular gene found on the X chromosome, called MAGEC3, appeared to get ovarian cancer 6.7 years earlier than they would have without the mutation. Among the families involved in the study, the average age that women with the mutation got ovarian cancer was 44.

Women carry two X chromosomes in their cells—one from their mother, the other from their father. "The gene does exist on mom's chromosomes too," Kevin Eng, a researcher at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute who was one of the authors of the paper, told Newsweek. But because a woman's father has only one X chromosome to give to his daughters, a father with mutations in this gene is guaranteed to pass it on.

"If you do inherit it from dad, the pattern is really all or nothing," Eng said. "That means you and every one of your sisters is going to carry the mutation."

Eng and his colleagues used data from an ovarian cancer registry for people with at least two cases of the disease in their families. "Physicians at Roswell Park have been running this registry for quite a long time," Eng said—about 35 years. The registry includes about 2,700 families.

There are other, more famous mutations on genes linked with ovarian cancer risk: BRCA1 and BRCA2. According to the American Cancer Society, women who carry a BRCA1 mutation have up to a 70 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer at some point. Genetic tests exist for BRCA1 and BRCA2, and in theory testing could be done for MAGEC3. But more research would need to be done before that happens.

Less than 10 percent of ovarian cancers may be due to genetic mutations, the American Cancer Society noted. Ovarian cancer is responsible for less than 2 percent of new cancer diagnoses in the United States each year. Almost half of people with ovarian cancer are still alive five years after they are diagnosed.