Last year’s news of Angelina Jolie receiving an elective preventative mastectomy was quite shocking but is not the only way to prevent women’s genetic cancers. Let’s not overlook the power of prevention. A lot of lives could be saved by simply getting properly tested. Here we are shedding some light on Ovarian Cancer, for which there’s currently no screening tool and symptoms are often confused by both women and doctors.

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Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a double mastectomy last year as a carrier of the faulty BRCA gene mutation (which can lead to both breast and ovarian cancer) may have put the issue in the spotlight; however a new report released today shows it has had little impact on the number of women with a family history being genetically tested.

'WORLD WAR Z' Germany Premiere

The study by medical research charity Ovarian Cancer Action conducted among 1267 UK women aged 18+ to mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (March) shows that while almost 90% of women are aware of the Angelina story, and more than 90% understood her decision to undergo the double mastectomy, only one in ten were then prompted by it to look into their own family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

Of those that did look into their family history, only 2% had a genetic test for the BRCA gene mutation, while a third found it difficult to find out information about their family’s history of ovarian and breast cancer.

15% of women said they felt nervous about discussing the subject of breast / ovarian cancer with their immediate family, while 1 in 6 said they felt afraid of discussing it.

More than 60% say they are not aware of where to get more info about genetic testing, while 63% have not heard of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

A family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer may indicate that there is the presence of a BRCA1/2 mutation, which increases the risk of getting ovarian cancer from 1 in 54 to 1 in 2.

In London, 90% are aware of the Angelina Jolie story and 89% understand why she had a double mastectomy.

14% London women say the Angelina Jolie news or the current EastEnders storyline (Carol Jackson is diagnosed with breast cancer and possible BRCA gene mutation) prompted them to find out more about their family’s medical history of breast / ovarian cancer. 6% of those that found out about their family history have had a genetic test for the BRCA gene mutation.

'WORLD WAR Z' Germany Premiere

The current Eastenders is illustrating this problem in a new storyline. Next week EastEnders Carol Jackson will find out whether she is BRCA positive or not. If she is found positive, this will have have HUGE implications for her on-screen family in terms of do they get tested and what a positive test result could mean to them – which is exactly what this new study illustrates.

The message for ALL women, especially those with a significant family history of either breast and/or ovarian cancer, is to be ‘BRCA aware’ by checking out their family medical history. It could save their life.

Known as the most deadly gynecological cancers – ovarian cancer kills 1 woman every 2 hours here in the UK and with 7,000 new UK diagnoses each year. A shocking 32% of ovarian cancer patients in the UK are diagnosed each year through an emergency route.

There’s currently no screening tool for ovarian cancer and symptoms are often confused by both women and doctors for other conditions. Of the women surveyed, more than half were unaware that persistent stomach pains and bloating could be a sign. Likewise 60% were unaware increased stomach size, 85% difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and 80% needing to urinate more frequently were clear signs of ovarian cancer.

The charity is also launching its BRCA Risk Tool – an online risk calculator – designed to help people make more informed choices about whether BRCA1/2 testing should be considered.

Facts about ovarian cancer

• Known as the most deadly of the gynecological cancers – and currently the 5th most common cancer among women

• 1 woman every 2 hours dies from the disease in the UK

• 7,000 new UK diagnoses each year

• A shocking 32% of ovarian cancer patients in the UK are diagnosed each year through emergency services

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The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

• Persistent stomach pain

• Persistent bloating or increased stomach size

• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

• Needing to urinate more frequently

The key features of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are

• Their persistency – they don’t go away

• Their frequency – they occur on most days

• They are new – they started in the last 12 months

• They are unusual – they are not normal for you

Photo credits: The images of actress Angelina Jolie attending WORLD WAR Z Germany Premiere at Sony Centre on 4 June 2013 in Berlin Germany are by Andreas Rentz – Getty Images for Paramount Pictures.

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