There are a few stages to having a genetic test. In many places genetic testing is done by the same team and in the same place as your ovarian cancer treatment (the oncology clinic). This means that someone in your medical team will speak to you about genetic testing during one of your oncology appointments. You may be asked to complete a form about your family history. You may find it helpful to talk to your family members to gather as much information as possible. Don’t worry if you can’t answer any/all of these questions. Lots of women don’t know about their family history and it’s important to remember that not knowing does not affect your test.
During the appointment you will be given information about what a genetic test involves and what the results might mean for you and your family. You will also be able to ask questions. It’s important that you take your time to think about whether you want to have the test. Some centres will want you to wait until your next appointment to decide. If you are struggling with the decision you should be given the chance to talk to someone about your feelings. This person may be called a genetic counsellor (a professional who is trained to talk to you about the benefits and risks of genetic testing).
If your treatment centre doesn’t offer genetic testing then your oncologist can refer you to the local genetics centre for the test. You will be asked to make an appointment to visit the genetics centre where a clinical geneticist (a doctor who specialises in genetics) or a genetic counsellor will discuss with you what is involved in a test and what the implications might be for you and your family.
After this, if you choose to go ahead with the test, you will have some blood taken to be tested. In lots of oncology clinics this will happen during your next routine blood test (for example a blood test before having chemotherapy). In other oncology clinics you may have the choice to go back to the clinic at a different time (because your appointment is too soon or not soon enough).
Your blood sample will be sent to a genetics laboratory to be tested. In many places, you will be given a choice of how you’d like to receive the results of the test – whether by phone or in writing, or sometimes face to face.
The time it takes for the blood test to be analysed and the results to be available varies slightly between the genetics centres and you will be advised how long it will take for yours. It is usually between four and ten weeks.
When you’re told about your test result, you will be given some more information about what the result means and what the next steps are. You will also be able to speak with your treatment team in the oncology clinic (or the genetics team at the genetics centre) who will talk you through your result and the next steps in as much detail as you need.
“At the first meeting, they talked about the likelihood of it being genetic, and asked me to complete the family history forms. Because an aunt on my dad’s side had died of ovarian cancer, and another of breast cancer, the counsellor said this indicated a strong link.” Berni
What are the possible results of a genetic test?
There are three possible results for testing for a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation:
- Mutation present - sometimes called a positive test result: Testing identifies a mutation that causes a significant change to the gene and is therefore very likely to be the cause of your cancer.
- Variant of unknown significance (VUS) – sometimes called an inconclusive test result: Testing may identify a mutation or alteration in the gene where it is uncertain whether or not this would cause an increased cancer risk. This is known as a variant of unknown/uncertain clinical significance because it is not clear if it causes significant changes to the gene.
- Mutation not present – sometimes called a negative test result: Testing has not identified any gene mutations.
Find out more
- What is the impact of the different results for me and my family?
- I have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation – what now?
- What are the implications for a family member with a BRCA gene mutation?
- Further sources of support
The information on these page is reviewed regularly and is in line with accepted national and international guidelines. All of our publications undergo an expert peer review and are reviewed by women with ovarian cancer to ensure that we provide accurate and high-quality information. To find out more take a look at our information standards.
Last reviewed: March 2020
Next review: April 2022