-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
TUESDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Women with the BRCA gene,
who are already at greater risk for breast and ovarian cancer, may
also be at increased risk for early menopause, according to a new
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found
a harmful mutation in the BRCA gene may give women fewer
childbearing years and may also increase their risk of infertility.
And heavy smokers who carry the mutation may go through menopause
even earlier than non-smoking women with the mutation.
The researchers suggested that women with the BRCA mutation
consider having children at a younger age. They noted that doctors
should encourage their patients who carry this mutation to get
fertility counseling in addition to their other medical
"Our findings show that mutation of these genes has been linked to early menopause, which may lead to a higher incidence of infertility," study senior author Dr. Mitchell Rosen, director of the UCSF Fertility Preservation, said in a university news release. "This can add to the significant psychological implications of being a BRCA ... carrier, and will likely have an impact on reproductive decision-making."
In conducting the study, which was published online Jan. 29 in
Cancer, the researchers examined information on 400 female
carriers of mutations in the BRCA gene who lived in northern
California. Most were white. The age at which these women went
through menopause was compared to that of nearly 800 women living
in the same area who did not carry a BRCA mutation.
The study revealed that women with the mutation experienced
menopause at age 50 on average. In comparison, menopause for women
without the mutation began at about 53. Women who smoked more than
20 cigarettes daily who carried the mutation went through menopause
even earlier, with onset at age 46 on average. The researchers
pointed out that only 7 percent of white women living in the region
experienced menopause by that age.
Mutations in either of the genes BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 are the most
identified inherited cause of breast cancer. Women with these
mutations are five times more likely to develop breast cancer than
those without the mutations, according to the U.S. National Cancer
The researchers noted that more studies are needed on the link
between BRCA mutations and risk for infertility. They pointed out
that data on the natural age of menopause among women with these
mutations is limited since many opt to undergo surgery to remove
at-risk tissue, including their breasts and ovaries, after they
The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on
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