Chemotherapy Treatment for Breast Cancer (cont.)
Cancer and its treatment will undoubtedly cause many changes in your life. One change you may experience from chemotherapy is alterations in your menstrual cycles - from irregular periods to the symptoms of menopause (the end of menstruation).
Experts don't fully understand all of chemotherapy's effects on the female reproductive system, but this article will begin to answer some of the questions you may have, including:
- How does chemotherapy cause or contribute to the development of menopause?
- Will chemotherapy affect my ability to get pregnant?
- What are the symptoms of menopause and how can I deal with them?
- How will I know if the way I am feeling is associated with menopause and not with my treatment, stress, or another factor?
- What are some other conditions related to menopause?
Menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life. The term menopause is commonly used to describe any of the changes a woman experiences either before or after she stops menstruating. As menopause nears, the ovaries produce less estrogen, causing changes in the menstrual cycle and other physical changes.
Technically, menopause is the end of the reproductive phase of a woman's life, when the ovaries no longer produce eggs and she has her last menstrual cycle. The diagnosis of menopause is not confirmed until a woman has not had her period for six consecutive months.
How Does Chemotherapy Influence The Onset Of Menopause?
During chemotherapy, women may have irregular menstrual cycles or amenorrhea (disappearance of menstrual periods). Some medications used in chemotherapy may also cause damage to the ovaries, resulting in menopausal symptoms or menopause.
Menopause triggered by chemotherapy may be immediate or delayed, permanent or temporary. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately determine how or when chemotherapy or other cancer treatments will affect your menstrual cycle.
However, menopause is rarely a sudden response to chemotherapy. When treatments begin, you may notice some menopausal symptoms, but usually the symptoms are delayed for several months after treatment is started. This is natural. Menopausal symptoms may last for years after treatment is completed.
The most common symptoms of menopause are hot flashes, emotional changes, changes in the vagina, sexuality changes, and weight gain.
Will My Menstrual Flow Be Different After Chemotherapy?
Menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman. Some women may experience less frequent cycles than they had prior to chemotherapy. They may skip a period or increase the number of days between periods. Other women may have more frequent periods.
Some women may not experience a change in the length of their menstrual cycles but the flow pattern may be different than it was before treatment (the number of days or amount of flow may diminish or the flow may be heavier). Mixed patterns are also common: some women may have shorter menstrual cycles with heavier bleeding, or infrequent cycles with many days of a very high flow.
Even though periods tend to be irregular around the time of menopause, it is important to be aware of bleeding that is not normal for you. It is very important to call your physician if you ever have very heavy bleeding that is associated with weakness or dizziness.
Will My Periods Return After Chemotherapy?
Many premenopausal women retain or recover ovarian function and their periods return after treatment is completed. Return of ovarian function may depend on the woman's age prior to treatment and the type of medication she received during treatment.
Can I Get Pregnant While I'm Receiving Chemotherapy?
Yes. There is always a chance that you can get pregnant as long as you are menstruating. While on chemotherapy, your menstrual cycle may become irregular. As a result, you may never quite be sure where you are in your menstrual cycle and your period may take you by surprise. Some of your menstrual cycles may be non-egg producing, but you cannot rely on this.
Even if your periods seem to have stopped, you should use a safe and effective method of birth control for at least four to eight weeks after your chemotherapy treatment has ended.
What Is The Safest Type Of Birth Control During Chemotherapy?
A safe and effective contraception (birth control) method is necessary during your treatment. Guidelines for young women undergoing chemotherapy may include the use of barrier contraceptives such as a diaphragm or a condom. Oral contraceptives (birth control pills) may be acceptable for some women, but are generally not recommended for women with breast cancer.
What Happens If I Get Pregnant While Receiving Chemotherapy?
Becoming pregnant while receiving chemotherapy could result in a complicated pregnancy.
Some chemotherapy medicines to treat breast cancer are safely given during pregnancy.
If you think you might be pregnant, it is important to tell your physician right away so that steps can be taken to ensure the health of you and your baby.
After I've Completed Chemotherapy, How Long Must I Wait Before Trying To Get Pregnant?
Pregnancies after chemotherapy are not uncommon, but need to be planned after you complete treatment. Consult your oncology physician about your plans to get pregnant. In many cases, pregnancy will not influence the return of cancer. But there are situations in which pregnancy should be considered with caution.
If infertility is an issue after your treatment is complete, there are alternative therapies. Discuss your options with your gynecologic doctor.
Are There Risks Of Chromosomal Abnormalities Or Cancer In Children Conceived After Chemotherapy?
No. There is no known risk of chromosomal abnormalities in a woman's children after she has had chemotherapy. There is also no evidence that cancer treatment causes cancer in children conceived after the treatment is complete.