Women who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 (BRCA1/2) gene mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancer may experience menopause a few years earlier than other women, a new study says.
Infertility is already a major concern faced by these women, who may opt to undergo surgery to remove their ovaries and breasts to lessen their risk of cancer or who feel under tremendous pressure to start a family before undergoing surgery.
BRCA mutation carriers’ cancer risk is substantially higher than non-carriers and increases dramatically with each decade of age. For many of those at risk, disease may develop at an early age.
"Now they have an additional issue to deal with," says Dr. Mitchell Rosen, a reproductive endocrinology and fertility expert at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, and lead author of the new study.
"The earlier you go into menopause, the more likely you are to not be able to have kids," Rosen told Reuters Health.
BRCA1/2 gene mutations are passed down through families and in addition to breast and ovarian cancers, carriers are at higher risk than most people of developing several other cancer types, including fallopian tube cancer, endometrial, pancreatic, and prostate cancer in men.
Though rare, it is estimated that the BRCA1/2 mutation is found in 2 to 6 percent of all breast cancer patients, and 10 to 15 percent of epithelial ovarian cancer patients, according to a recent review article published in International Journal of Surgical Oncology.
Under normal conditions, the BRCA genes are tumor suppressors that help prevent cancer by repairing damaged cells. An average woman’s lifetime risk for breast cancer is 1 in 8 and the risk for ovarian cancer is 1 in 70.
However, research shows inheriting one mutant copy of the BRCA gene predisposes an individual to familial breast and ovarian cancer. The BRCA1 mutation is associated with an 80 percent lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer, according to Tufts University.
A number of studies examining the incidence of breast cancer report a lower risk with a BRCA2 mutation compared to individuals with BRCA1, the International Journal study points out.