Senior author Dr. Mitchell Rosen of the University of California, San Francisco, showed carriers of the mutation who are heavy smokers enter menopause at an even earlier age than non-smoking women with the mutation.
"Our findings show that mutation of these genes has been linked to early menopause, which may lead to a higher incidence of infertility,'' Rosen said in a statement. "This can add to the significant psychological implications of being a BRCA1/2 carrier, and will likely have an impact on reproductive decision-making."
Rosen said further research is needed, given the size and demographics of the study, women with the abnormal gene mutation should consider earlier childbearing, and their doctors should encourage them to initiate fertility counseling along with other medical treatments.
The researchers looked at nearly 400 female carriers of mutations in the BRCA gene in northern California and compared their onset of menopause to that of 765 women in the same geographic area without the mutation.
The scientists found that women with the harmful mutation experienced menopause at age 50 compared to age 53 for the women without the gene.
However, heavy smokers -- more than 20 cigarettes a day -- with the BRCA gene had an even earlier onset of menopause -- age 46. By comparison, only 7 percent of white women in northern California had undergone menopause by that age, the study said.
The study was published online in Cancer.