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"A better understanding of the genetic contribution of all types of ovarian cancer increases our ability to predict — and therefore prevent — ovarian cancer, thus saving lives."

Elizabeth Swisher

UW Medicine
I always thought being a doctor meant helping patients deal with life-threatening events, so taking care of people with cancer has been my focus ever since I began my medical career. Early on, I learned that prevention could be more powerful than treatment, so I was drawn to genetics in order to better understand who will develop cancer before it happens. I am devastated when I meet a new patient with ovarian cancer who has a clear inherited predisposition, because her cancer could have been predicted and prevented. My goal is to empower women to learn about their risk of cancer and help them take the appropriate steps to reduce that risk.


Approximately 20,000 women per year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer  in the U.S.- the most deadly form of cancer affecting the female reproductive system. Its symptoms are similar to those of other common conditions, so most women are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Given the late stage that most ovarian cancers are discovered, the best form of treatment is often prevention. Our research focuses on expanding genetic testing so that we can better predict which women are at risk of ovarian cancer and offer them successful, targeted prevention.

Using Genetic Testing to Gauge Risk

We have discovered that one-fourth of common ovarian cancers are hereditary. Inherited mutations of at least 16 genes put women at risk for developing the disease. Some researchers have argued that only women with serous ovarian cancers (approximately 60 percent of cases) should be offered genetic testing, but we disagree.

Our preliminary data indicates that genetic testing is just as useful in other ovarian cancers. The key is screening for more genes. We plan to use DNA sequencing technology to examine these less common types of ovarian cancer, including clear cell, endometrioid and carcinosarcomas. We will evaluate 45 genes in the blood and cancer tissue from 150 women with non-serous ovarian cancers. Understanding which genes are linked to which types of ovarian cancer will help us identify who is at risk as well as personalize prevention and treatment strategies.

Who will benefit?

Women with inherited risk of ovarian cancer will benefit from this research.


Funding from the National Cancer Institute has paid for analysis and laboratory personnel for evaluation of serous cancers. Consano funds will allow us to extend our analyses to non-serous ovarian cancers.