Anecdotal evidence for familial clustering of ovarian cancer dates back many years, ovarian tumours occurring in more than one member of the same family being reported as early as 1877 . Since then a number of families containing multiple cases of ovarian cancer have been reported [2,3]. Many of these families also segregate early onset breast cancer  or other cancers  and the families have generally been suggestive of an autosomal dominant gene conferring a high lifetime risk of disease. Over the past few years more rapid progress has been made in understanding the possible inherited basis of ovarian cancer, firstly through population based epidemiological studies of familial risks and secondly through genetic linkage studies which have demonstrated that many breast-ovarian cancer families are the result of a predisposing gene on chromosome 17q known as BRCAl [6,7]. In this paper we review some of the epidemiological evidence on genetic susceptibility to ovarian cancer and the 17q linkage studies. We also consider the risks of ovarian cancer conferred by mutations in the BRCAl gene and examine the likely contribution of BRCAl to familial ovarian cancer and to ovarian cancer in general.
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