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Breast Cancer Gene May Be Tied to Early Menopause

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 study.

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 treatments.

"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 the journal 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 Institute.

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 have children.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on the BRCA gene.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Jan. 29, 2013

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