Fathers can pass a gene linked to ovarian cancer to their daughters, a new study has found.
Ovarian cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women. It mainly affects those who have been through the menopause (typically aged 50 or over) but sometimes it can affect younger women too.
Researchers collected information about pairs of granddaughters and grandmothers and analysed the X-chromosome from 186 women affected by ovarian cancer. They found that cases of ovarian cancer linked to genes inherited from their father’s mum (paternal grandmother) had an earlier age-of-onset than cases linked to maternal genes.
More than 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year in the UK. It is thought the findings of the new study could lead to improved cancer screening and genetic risk assessments.
The genetic mutation, passed down through the X-chromosome, is linked to cases of ovarian cancer that develop more than six years earlier than average. It’s also associated with higher rates of prostate cancer in fathers and sons.
The study was carried out by Kunle Odunsi, Kevin H. Eng and colleagues at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. In earlier studies, they noticed that when a woman developed ovarian cancer, her sister faced a higher risk of also developing the disease. But her mother didn’t.
The observation was difficult to explain, which is why Eng and colleagues investigated whether genes on the X-chromosome, potentially passed down through the father, contributed to a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.
Their hypothesis was correct: they found a gene on the X-chromosome can contribute to a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer, independently of other known susceptibility genes such as the BRCA genes.
Ovarian cancer symptoms
The symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those of other conditions, which can make it difficult to spot for both patients and doctors. According to the NHS, symptoms to look out for include: persistent bloating, a swollen tummy, pain in the pelvis or tummy area, difficulty eating / feeling full quickly, and needing to urinate more often than normal.
Researchers said future studies will be needed to confirm the identity and function of the newly-identified gene.
Eng said: “Our study may explain why we find families with multiple affected daughters: because a dad’s chromosomes determine the sex of his children, all of his daughters have to carry the same X-chromosome genes.
“What we have to do next is make sure we have the right gene by sequencing more families. This finding has sparked a lot of discussion within our group about how to find these X-linked families.
“It’s an all-or-none kind of pattern. A family with three daughters who all have ovarian cancer is more likely to be driven by inherited X mutations than by BRCA mutations.”