Women who carry the so-called "breast cancer gene" may find themselves going through natural menopause a few years earlier than women who don't, according to a recent study of nearly a thousand women with BRCA gene mutations.
One in 600 women in the United States carries the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, both of which greatly increase the chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer at some point in their lives. The National Cancer Institute says breast cancer risk jumps from 12 to 60 percent with a BRCA mutation; ovarian cancer risk rises from 1.4 percent to 15 to 40 percent.
Doctors have been advising these women on whether they should have immediate surgery to remove their ovaries and breasts, or if they should hold off because they want to have children. But make no mistake, they are all advised to have their ovaries removed by the age of 40.
Can you imagine if these were your only choices to save yourself from a possible cancer diagnosis? Cancer is a slow and painful way to die. No one wants that. But when the option is would you like your lady parts removed now or later? it seems so inhumane.
There has been no noticeable trend in women who carry these mutations having fertility issues, but knowing that being a carrier means that you will most likely need to have your ovaries removed by the age of 40 does put a burden on those women to speed up their life plan. It’s one thing to know about your biological clock in theory; it’s quite another to know it will be stop ticking for good on a very specific date.
With the discovery that those with one of the cancer gene mutations are more likely to go through menopause earlier, will women start taking more drastic measures when it comes to their fertility? Will doctors start recommending that women be tested at puberty for the gene and, if they do have it, counsel those women against having children altogether?
One doctor is suggesting that embryos be tested to see if they carry the mutation, which I find extremely worrying. I hate cancer as much as anyone, especially since it’s affected many people close to me. But if we interfere with the natural course of nature and start eliminating the chances of developing cancer by ending the gestation of embryos that test positive for the mutation, aren't we playing God? Testing positive for the mutation does not necessarily mean testing positive for cancer.
How far is too far?
Image via BenGrey/Flickr