The Breast Cancer Gene Can Put Your Fertility at Risk

This genetic mutation could have implications we never would have imagined—especially if you plan to have a baby.

Angelina Jolie Waving at Conference Ververidis Vasilis/
Women who have inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation, like Angelina Jolie, may be at risk for fertility problems, according to a new study

The BRCA1 gene puts women at an 80 percent increased risk for developing breast cancer—and as if that weren't bad enough, it might also be linked to having fewer eggs in the ovaries with age, according to new reports. While this link seems significant, no cause-and-effect relationship has been proven.

Supply and demand

Researchers examined participants who were between 25 and 45 years old. The women were seperated into two groups—some had the BRCA1 mutation, others had the BRCA2 gene, which supresses tumors. Researchers sampled blood from participants and tested levels of anti-Mullerian hormone levels, which reflect the size of a woman's eggs supply. Researchers adjusted their findings to take into account the ages, BMIs, smoking and oral contraceptive use of subjects before reaching a conclusion.

"Although BRCA1 is thought of as a cancer gene, there are other implications that are not cancer-related," the study's lead researcher, Kelly-Anne Phillips, M.D., said in a release for the study. "So it is credible that any effect of mutation status on ovarian reserve would be more pronounced in BRCA1 mutation carriers, There may be a lesser effect in BRCA2 mutation carriers as well, but our study did not have adequate power to detect it."

More: Photo of Mom Nursing With Breast Cancer Goes Viral

Age: More than a number

Breast Cancer Patient with Doctor otnaydur/Shutterstock
One thing that's important to remember: Fertility does tend to decline with age and the presence of the BRCA1 gene could further accelerate this. That's why women who have the gene should consider having children earlier, according to the study's researchers. "Our findings suggest that women carrying the BRCA1 mutation should try to avoid delaying pregnancy until their late 30s or 40s when fertility is reduced anyway because of their age. For women trying to conceive in their 20s, any difference in ovarian reserve between BRCA1 mutation carriers and non-carriers is unlikely to be of clinical significance," Dr. Phillips said.

More: High Rate of Women Spot Breast Cancer While Pregnant