A woman with a family history of early menopause is herself likely to have an early menopause and consequently early reproductive failure, concludes the team of Dutch researchers who have carried out the world's first study in non-twin sisters of the genetic factors involved in natural menopause.
As the age of menopause is a retrospective marker for a woman's reproductive capacity in the years beforehand, the research team believes that finding that heritability plays such a major role in determining the menopause has important implications for women when childbirth is being delayed well beyond the age of 30. It was this social phenomenon that prompted them to undertake the project.
The teams, from centres in Utrecht and Wageningen, collected data from 243 non-twin sisters in 118 families among a random population sample participating in a breast cancer screening project that had begun in the 1970s. They also collected data from 22 non-identical and 37 identical twins. In the breast cancer screening study all the women had agreed to provide extensive information about their health, their families and reproductive history for compilation on a database designed for research purposes.
Using three different analytical models the researchers established nearly identical results: for non-twin sisters the age at which they reached menopause was 85-87% down to genetic factors. In twins it was 70-71% - a figure which was not statistically significantly different from that of the non-twin sisters.
Research leader, Dr Jan-Peter de Bruin, from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, said that they had undertaken the project because they saw a serious social problem emerging with
Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology