Women with harmful mutations in the BRCA gene that give them a higher risk of developing breast cancer tend to undergo menopause significantly sooner, say researchers at the University of California - San Francisco.
The study, in the journal Cancer, also showed that BRCA women who are heavy smokers enter menopause at an even earlier age than non-smoking women with the mutation.
Mutations in either of the genes BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 can produce a hereditary, lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The abnormal genes are the most identified inherited cause of breast cancer - carriers are five times more likely to develop breast cancer than those without the mutations, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The new study was designed to determine whether women with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have an earlier onset of menopause compared with unaffected women.
The scientists found that women with the harmful mutation experienced menopause at a significantly younger age - 50 years - compared to age 53 for the other midlife women. Heavy smokers with the abnormal gene had an even earlier onset of menopause - 46 years.
"Our findings show that mutation of these genes has been linked to early menopause, which may lead to a higher incidence of infertility,'' said Mitchell Rosen, the study's senior author. "This can add to the significant psychological implications of being a BRCA1/2 carrier, and will likely have an impact on reproductive decision-making."
"Women with the mutation are faced with challenges in reproductive choices,'' added study co-author Lee-may Chen. "These data may help women understand that their childbearing years may be even more limited by earlier menopause, so that they can make decisions about their reproductive choices and cancer risk-reducing surgery.''
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Source: University of California - San Francisco