Unfortunately, as with most aspects of this type of hereditary cancer, little research exists with regard to fertility, and what does exist is based only on BRCA mutations. A study done by Dr. Stephen Narod of Toronto's Familial Breast Cancer Research Unit showed no relationship between BRCA mutations and infertility. However, another study showed that women with BRCA1 mutations had fewer eggs as compared to women without BRCA mutations. We could find no research done on male carriers, but did find a study in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Journal on mice, in which sperm quality for BRCA1 mice was found to be compromised. A research study on BRCA mutation carriers and menopause reported a significantly earlier age at natural menopause for carriers, and if they were heavy smokers that risk was compounded.
Both male and female risky gene carrier parents each have a 50% of passing their inherited gene mutation(s) to all biological children. This may be reason enough to consider pre-implantation diagnosis. However, if both parents have a BRCA2 mutation that is passed to their child, Fanconi Anemia will result, which is a rare disease that causes a wide array of serious difficulties. Couples who each carry a single BRCA2 mutation have a 25% risk of having a child with Fanconi Anemia. There is also research to support that when two BRCA1 mutation carriers come together, the combination can result in repeated miscarriages.
Young female previvors who have not yet had children may not want to take the risk of waiting to find the right partner or to expose their bodies to the hormonal changes of pregnancy, which has been shown to be a risk factor for breast cancer. For some there may be the option of removing the ovaries but retaining the uterus and implanting previously harvested eggs at a later date.
Still a new science, Oocyte Cryopreservation is the freezing of human eggs, with the goal of preserving the reproductive ability in women of childbearing age. At a later date, embryos can be created with the sperm of a male, after which a surrogate could be used or, if their own uterus is still intact, they may be able to carry the child to term themselves. The effect of the hormones used to help harvest eggs has not been well-researched for risky gene carriers.
For those who want to ensure their risky gene mutation is not passed along to their children, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is the process of screening embryos. However, there may be moral implications involved for some when considering the disposal of mutation-positive embryos.
To assess sperm or egg viability and learn more about fertility preservation, contact a fertility clinic in your area
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