Jan 30, 2013, 09.37 AM | Source: Reuters
Women who carry the BRCA mutations tied to breast and ovarian cancer may hit menopause a few years earlier than other women, according to a US study of nearly a thousand 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 Mitchell Rosen, who worked on the study at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
An estimated one in 600 US women carries the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.
Those mutations greatly increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman's chance of getting breast cancer at some point in her life increases from 12 to 60 percent with a BRCA mutation, and ovarian cancer from 1.4 percent to between 15 and 40 percent.
What has been less well studied is whether those mutations also affect a woman's egg stores and her chance of getting pregnant.
For the study, which appeared in the journal Cancer, the researchers surveyed 382 California women who carried the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation and another 765 women who weren't known carriers.
The study team focused specifically on women who went through menopause naturally, and not those who had their ovaries removed before menopause.
Women with the genetic mutations said they'd stopped getting their periods at age 50, on average, compared to age 53 for other women. The youngest natural menopause, at age 46, came for women with a BRCA mutation who were also heavy smokers, Rosen and his colleagues reported.
Their study only included white women, so it's unknown whether the findings apply to other racial and ethnic groups. It's also not clear whether mutation carriers had any trouble conceiving, although it's more likely, they said.
But the last thing BRCA mutation carriers need is to have another thing to seriously worry about, said Ellen Matloff, director of cancer genetic counseling at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Connecticut.
Those women are already advised to get their ovaries taken out b y 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," said Matloff, who added that more research will be needed to confirm these findings and their impact, if any.
"Almost all women who carry the mutations have their ovaries removed surgically before going through natural menopause anyway," she added.