Jan 30 (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 U.S. study of nearly a
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 U.S. 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
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
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.
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)
- Disease & Medical Conditions