The findings, published today in Human Molecular Genetics, could have considerable impact on women in the UK and other western countries, where many start having children at a later age. Early menopause affects one in 20* UK women.
The study from scientists at the University of Exeter Peninsula Medical School and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), funded by The Wellcome Trust, tested four genes associated with the menopause. They compared 2,000 women from the Breakthrough Generations Study who had experienced early menopause with a matched** group of the same number. The four genes each affected risk of early menopause. In combination, they had a larger impact, which goes towards explaining why some women experience early menopause.
The Breakthrough Generations Study is a large and comprehensive study into the causes of breast cancer and a partnership between Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the ICR. The study will follow the 100,000 UK women participants for the next 40 years to unravel the lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors that cause the disease.
Although early menopause is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer, women who experience early menopause are susceptible to other health problems including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and a reduction in fertility.
The research could help women determine whether they have a genetic predisposition to early menopause, and therefore predict the time of the end of their reproductive life. They could then make informed family planning decisions on the basis of this knowledge.
Lead scientist Dr Anna Murray, from the University of Exeter Peninsula Medical School, says, “It is estimated that a woman’s ability to conceive decreases on average ten years before she starts the menopause. Therefore, those who are destined to have an early menopause and delay childbearing until their 30s are more likely to have problems conceiving.
“These findings are the first stage in developing an easy and relatively inexpensive genetic test which could help the one in 20 UK women who may be affected by early menopause.”
Principal Investigator of the Breakthrough Generations Study Professor Anthony Swerdlow from the ICR, says, “We have made a valuable step towards helping women across the country identify and predict whether they are at risk of early menopause. This may in turn allow them to make informed decisions about their future fertility.
“We could not have made these findings without the 100,000 women who are participating in the Breakthrough Generations Study. We hope that many more medical advances will be made over the next 40 years as a consequence of the study.”
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Media Contact: Richard Purnell or Sarah Viner in the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Press Office on 020 7025 2432 or out of hours 07778 682001
Notes for editors:
* Premature Ovarian Failure affects 1% and menopause before 45 about 5% of UK women
** Matched by age and ethnicity and who hadn’t experienced early menopause
About breast cancer
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK – nearly 46,000 women and around 300 men are diagnosed every year
- Breast cancer accounts for nearly 1 in 3 of all female cancers and one in nine women in the UK will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime
- More than 1,000 women die of breast cancer every month in the UK
- The good news is that more women than ever in the UK are surviving breast cancer thanks to better awareness, better treatments and better screening
Breakthrough Breast Cancer
- Breakthrough Breast Cancer is a pioneering charity dedicated to the prevention, treatment and ultimate eradication of breast cancer. The charity fights on three fronts: research, campaigning and education.
- Breakthrough Breast Cancer funds ground-breaking research, campaign for better services and treatments and raise awareness of breast cancer. Through this work the charity believes passionately that breast cancer can be beaten and the fear of the disease removed for good.
Find more information at www.breakthrough.org.uk
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk
The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.
For more information visit www.wellcome.ac.uk
The Peninsula Medical School
The Peninsula Medical School is a joint entity of the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and the NHS in the South West of England, and a partner of the Combined Universities in Cornwall. The Peninsula Medical School has created for itself an excellent national and international reputation for groundbreaking research in the areas of diabetes and obesity, neurological disease, child development and ageing, clinical education, health and the environment and health technology assessment. The Peninsula Medical School is licensed under the Human Tissue Act to hold ethically acquired human tissue.