Gynecologist Reveals How Breast Cancer Can Affect Menstrual Cycles
As autumn sets in, the month of October is also the time to raise awareness for breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with around 1 in 8 women diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. *
But while breast cancer can affect a patient’s physical and mental wellbeing it is lesser-known or discussed for its common impact on menstrual cycles.
Thats why, in aid of Breast Cancer Awareness month, intimate health care brand INTIMINA has asked its expert Gynecologist, Dr. Shree Datta to answer some of the most pressing questions about breast cancer in relation to menstruation.
Dr. Shree Datta takes a deep dive into how menstrual and reproductive history can affect breast cancer risks and reveals some practical advice and coping mechanisms for dealing with changes to the menstrual cycles during Breast cancer treatment.
1. Can cancer affect the menstrual cycle and how?
2. How does chemotherapy affect women’s bodies and menstrual cycles?
Other common side effects of chemotherapy include losing your appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, hair loss, bruising or bleeding, a higher risk of infection, mood changes, and tiredness.
3. How long does it take for a menstrual cycle to come back to normal after finishing chemotherapy?
4. How many women experience a change in their cycles during chemotherapy, and how long it takes for things to go back to normal after chemotherapy?
7. How to keep a positive mind?
Skin And General Appearance
Paying attention to the appearance of your breasts or chest is an important part of knowing what is normal. Noticing the shape and size, as well as what the skin looks like, will help you detect whether anything is changing.
Itâs normal for breasts to not be exactly symmetrical, but if one breast suddenly becomes much larger, this could be a sign that something is wrong and it should be checked out. If it looks like the skin or nipple is being pulled from the insideâthis is called retractionâand it should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. If the skin on the breast has sores, becomes red, thick and firm, or looks like the dimpled skin of an orange, a healthcare provider should evaluate it .
Herbal Therapies And Soy Products
There has been interest in using herbal therapies to treat menopausal symptoms. Vitamin E is one of these. At a dose of 800 IU per day, it can reduce hot flushes in some women, and is thought to be safe in women who have had breast cancer.
Soy products contain natural chemicals similar to oestrogen. It is thought by some that using these products may reduce the number and the severity of hot flushes. Soy products, when included in a normal healthy diet, appear to be safe, but the use of high-dose phytoestrogen supplements is not recommended following breast cancer treatment.
Some women find that their hot flushes are so severe they would like to try some of these products even though their safety in women who have had breast cancer treatment isnt proven.
- dong quai
Black cohosh is one of the few natural therapies shown to reduce hot flushes in research studies. It reduces hot flushes in women who have not had breast cancer, but this effect has not been proven in women who have had breast cancer.
Herbal products may take longer to have an effect than prescription medication, so if you decide to try these you should continue them for at least two to three months. There have been some reports of hepatitis in people using black cohosh. This is an extremely rare complication, but it is recommended that women who have liverproblems avoid using it.
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Menopausal Hormone Therapy And Cancer Risk
For decades, women have used hormone therapy to ease symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and sweating. This is called menopausal hormone therapy, and you may see it abbreviated as HT or MHT. You may also hear it described as hormone replacement therapy , postmenopausal hormone therapy , or postmenopausal hormones .
In the past, many doctors and their patients believed that MHT didnt just help with hot flashes and other symptoms it had important health benefits. But well-conducted studies have led many doctors to conclude that the risks of MHT often outweigh the benefits.
This information covers only how MHT can affect a womans risk of getting certain cancers. It does not cover other possible risks of MHT such as heart disease or stroke.
You can use this information when you talk to your doctor about whether MHT is right for you.
Reduced Interest In Sex
Sexual feelings vary during and after treatment for breast cancer. Some women find they feel closer than ever to their partners. More commonly however, women find that their sexual interest declines because of physical and emotional stress.
Treatments for breast cancer can cause physical changes that can make sex difficult or painful. Changes in your body that make sex difficult usually settle after treatment. Treatments can also be tiring and emotionally draining. A diagnosis of breast cancer can put a strain on any relationship, and the physical changes can make things more difficult. It is rare for any physical changes to be permanent.
It is important that you discuss any issues related to sexuality with your doctor or nurse, because there are often things they can do to help.
Testosterone is a hormone medication that is sometimes used to increase libido in women. It is not known if it is safe to use after treatment for breast cancer.
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Your Period Has Slowed Or Stopped
The big question if you’re not getting your period is — how old are you?
The cause of a missing menstrual period varies by age. “To quit having periods at age 25 is a significantly different issue than quitting at age 50,” Loffer says.
For a woman in her 20s or 30s who is sexually active, pregnancy is always a possibility. “Even if a woman thinks she’s protected, that’s not an absolute guarantee,” Loffer says.
On the other hand, women in their 40s or 50s could be in perimenopause — the period surrounding menopause. As your ovaries slow their production of estrogen, your periods come less frequently. Periods also can get shorter or lighter during perimenopause. Once your periods stop for a full 12 months in a row, you’re in menopause. The average age for menopause is 51.
Another possible cause of missed periods is excessive exercise. Anywhere from 5% to 25% of female athletes work out so hard that they stop getting their periods. Called exercise-induced amenorrhea, this phenomenon is particularly common among ballet dancers and runners. Intense exercise affects the production and regulation of reproductive hormones involved in the menstrual cycle.
Other Symptoms Of Menopause
The extent and severity of other symptoms varies from person to person and effects may be seen in both natural menopause and menopause brought on by breast cancer treatments. There are also many other causes for these symptoms. Other symptoms of menopause include:
Menopause also increases the risk of heart disease, osteopenia and osteoporosis .
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Menstrual Periods: Clues To Ovarian Cancer
Study Shows Risk of Death From Ovarian Cancer Linked to Overall Number of Ovulatory Cycles
”From this study, it looks like having a higher number of lifetime ovulatory cycles and starting your period earlier, at a younger age, increase your risk of death after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer,” says Cheryl L. Robbins, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of reproductive health and the study’s lead author.
Women who have been pregnant, for instance, have fewer ovulatory cycles over a lifetime than those who have not been pregnant.
This year, 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the U.S., and an estimated 14,600 women will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in early stages only a fifth of all cases are detected when the cancer is still localized. Symptoms can include those often associated with less severe problems, such as abdominal bloating or swelling, urinary urgency, and pelvic pain — and are thus often overlooked by women.
Breast Changes And Conditions
As you await follow-up test results, remember that most breast changes are not cancer.
You may have just received an abnormal mammogram result, or perhaps you or your health care provider found a breast lump or other breast change. Keep in mind that breast changes are very common, and most are not cancer. This page can help you learn about symptoms during your lifetime that are not cancer as well as follow-up tests used to diagnose breast conditions and treatments for specific breast conditions.
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When Your Period Signals A Problem
By Stephanie Watson. Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD. This information was provided by WebMD.
As you probably learned back in middle school, menstruation is the monthly shedding of your uterine lining. Though it can be uncomfortable and sometimes inconvenient, your period is your body’s way of telling you that your reproductive system is working properly.
Just as every woman is unique, every woman’s period has its own personality. Some periods are short, others are long. Some periods are heavy, others are light.
After a few years’ worth of monthly bleeding, most women start to get a feel for their period’s frequency, duration, and flow. When something out of the ordinary happens — such as spotting between periods or an exceptionally heavy flow — it’s natural to wonder what’s going on.
Maintain A Generally Healthy Lifestyle
Exercise regularly . This should be weight-bearing exercise such as walking, running or dancing rather than non-weight-bearing exercise like swimming or cycling.
It is essential to make sure you are getting enough calcium and vitamin D for bone health, especially during and after menopause as bone loss is more rapid. At least 1000 mg of calcium per day is recommended if you have reached menopause or 1300 mg per day if you are over 70. This can be obtained from either the food you eat or by taking calcium supplements.
Calcium requirements can be achieved by eating three to four serves of foods high in calcium each day. These foods include milk, cheese and yoghurt, canned sardines and salmon with bones, and tofu. Calcium-fortified foods such as calcium-fortified orange juice and soy milk are also a good source of calcium. Calcium is also found in lower quantities in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, dried beans and peas, dried apricots and nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts and cashews however the amounts are quite small and not enough to make a serve. If you are unable to meet your calcium requirements from your diet a supplement is recommended.
There are many drug treatments for osteoporosis if it develops. Your doctor will talk to you about these if your bone density is low.
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What Will My Doctor Do
They’ll give you a physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms and your familyâs medical history.
Most likely, your doctor will ask you questions about your premenstrual breast tenderness, such as whether it happens every time you get your period, whether you’ve noticed any lumps or discharge, and other symptoms youâve noticed.
Youâll get a breast exam to check for lumps, and you may also need a mammogram or breast ultrasound.
Remember, most breast lumps arenât cancer. But you have to see your doctor to be sure. If needed, you may get a biopsy, in which the doctor takes a tiny bit of the lump to test.
Your doctor may also suggest a few options to ease symptoms. For instance, taking diuretics, or “water pills,” before your period starts may reduce breast swelling and soreness. Hormonal birth control methods can also help. In severe cases, your doctor may refer you to a breast specialist for another exam.
Signs Of Breast Cancer
Take time to get to know the normal look and feel of your breasts while showering, dressing or looking in the mirror so you can detect any changes that may indicate cancer such as:
- A lump, lumpiness or thickening.
- Changes to the nipple such as a change in shape, crusting, a sore or an ulcer, redness or a nipple that turns in when it used to stick out.
- Changes to the skin of the breast such as dimpling of the skin, unusual redness or other color changes.
- Change in the shape or size of the breast either an increase or decrease.
- Unusual discharge from the nipple without squeezing.
- Swelling or discomfort in the armpit.
- Persistent, unusual pain not related to your normal monthly cycle, which remains after a menstrual period and occurs in one breast only.
Though not necessarily cancer, these signs should be checked by your doctor without delay.
Other resources Ive put together for you:
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Breast Changes During Your Lifetime That Are Not Cancer
Most women have changes in the breasts at different times during their lifetime.
- Before or during your menstrual periods, your breasts may feel swollen, tender, or painful. You may also feel one or more lumps during this time because of extra fluid in your breasts. Your health care provider may have you come back for a return visit at a different time in your menstrual cycle to see if the lump has changed.
- During pregnancy, your breasts may feel lumpy. This is usually because the glands that produce milk are increasing in number and getting larger. While breastfeeding, you may get a condition called mastitis. This happens when a milk duct becomes blocked. Mastitis causes the breast to look red and feel lumpy, warm, and tender. It may be caused by an infection and it is often treated with antibiotics. Sometimes the duct may need to be drained.
- As you approach menopause, your hormone levels change. This can make your breasts feel tender, even when you are not having your menstrual period. Your breasts may also feel more lumpy than they did before.
- If you are taking hormones your breasts may become more dense. This can make a mammogram harder to interpret. Be sure to let your health care provider know if you are taking hormones.
- After menopause, your hormone levels drop. You may stop having any lumps, pain, or nipple discharge that you used to have.
Your Period Is Heavier Than Normal
Most women only shed about 2 or 3 tablespoons of blood each month. Those with heavy periods can lose 5 or more tablespoons of blood monthly.
When you bleed excessively, you lose iron. Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, the molecule that helps your red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body. Without enough iron, your red blood cell count will drop, leading to anemia. Signs of anemia include shortness of breath, unusually pale skin, and fatigue.
If you have a persistently heavy flow, see your doctor for a blood count to make sure you’re not iron deficient, Ginsburg advises. If so, you might need to take a supplement.
A number of conditions can increase your period flow, including:
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Your Menstrual Life Determines Your Breast Cancer Risk
Breast cancer is one of the greatest fears women have. And they worry about all sorts of things causing breast cancer. Some are within your control others arent. The list of risk factors is long … longer than most women realize. And one of the risk factors about which most women are completely unaware is their menstrual life.
Youre probably thinking, Menstrual life? What in the world is that?
Like I said most women arent aware of many of their risk factors.
As it turns out there are five factors that work together to create something called your menstrual life.
You can probably guess by the term, menstrual life that it has something to do with menstruation . And you would be correct.
So your menstrual life is all about your cycles. And, as it turns out, your risk for breast cancer is directly related to how many menstrual cycles youve had in your lifetime.
So, what goes into determining your menstrual life?
Most of the factors are obvious. Theyre all the things that affect how many periods you had during your lifetime.
So the first thing that determines how many periods you had is the age at which you had your first period. Thats what begins your menstrual life.
Another thing that determines how many periods you had is how much time you spent skipping periods. So what are the things that caused you to skip periods? Pregnancy and breastfeeding. And both of them caused you to skip periods for months at a time.
Age at first period
Age at menopause
Menopause And Breast Cancer Treatment
The symptoms associated with menopause in women who have had breast cancer are the same as they are for any other woman. However, some of the treatments for breast cancer can make these symptoms worse.
Chemotherapy is the main breast cancer treatment that can bring on an early menopause. For some women, periods can stop temporarily during chemotherapy and in others they stop permanently. It is sometimes difficult to know if your periods will start again, and you may not know for 6 to 12 months. If you have no periods for 12 months it is extremely unlikely that they will start again. There is a lower chance of your periods coming back if you are over 40 at the time of treatment than there is if you are under 30. The likelihood of your periods coming back is also related to the type of chemotherapy you have and the doses used.
Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors are hormone-blocking treatments for breast cancer. They may have side effects similar to menopausal symptoms, for example, they can cause hot flushes. These medications often suppress periods even though the ovaries may still produce eggs. This means that pregnancy can still occur and in some cases fertility can temporarily increase while taking these tablets. Women who are still having periods before breast cancer treatment should therefore use contraception to avoid unwanted pregnancy.
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