While it is long known that, women carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have a 12%-60% risk of getting breast cancer, and 15%-40% chance of developing ovarian cancer at some point in their lives, new research out of the University of Califiornia (San Francisco) has found that they may also hit menopause an average of three years earlier than other women.
Doctors already discuss with those women whether they want immediate surgery to remove their ovaries and breasts, or if they want to start a family first and hold off on ovary removal.
"Now they have an additional issue to deal with," said Dr. Mitchell Rosen, who worked on the new study at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
It is estimated that one in 600 women in the US carries the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
What has been less well studied is whether those mutations also affect a woman's egg stores and her chance of getting pregnant.
According to Dr.Mitchell Rosen director of Fertility Preservation at UCSF, who lead the study, a survey involving 382 California women who carried the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation said they'd stopped getting their periods at age 50 while another 765 women who weren't known carriers, revealed that their periods ceased around age 53. He also stressed that his research team focused specifically on women who went through menopause naturally - and not those who had their ovaries removed before menopause.
“The youngest natural menopause, at age 46, came for women with a BRCA mutation who were also heavy smokers,” Rosen and his colleagues reported Tuesday in the journal Cancer. "The earlier you go into menopause, the more likely you are to not be able to have kids," he added, noting that younger women found to have the mutations may “now be faced with deciding whether they want immediate surgery to remove their ovaries and breasts, or if they want to start a family first and hold off on ovary removal.”
Another option would be for them to freeze their eggs or embryos.
In the meantime, Ellen Matloff, director of cancer genetic counseling at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, CT (who was not involved in the study), told Reuters Health that she didn't want BRCA mutation carriers to be overly worried about the new findings.
“Those women are already advised to get their ovaries taken out by age 40, which puts a ‘huge burden’ on them to find a partner and start a family,” she said.
"This study does not mean that you can't have children, and it doesn't mean that you have less time than you thought you did.”