7 things to know about menopause and breast cancer

Most women naturally go into menopause when they’re in their 40s or 50s. That’s because as a woman ages, she has fewer reproductive eggs and her estrogen and progesterone levels decline. After 12 months of not having a menstrual cycle, she’s considered to be in menopause. But for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, menopause can start earlier and feel more extreme. “Breast cancer treatment can speed up the process and intensify the symptoms,” says Bora Lim, M.D. Typical menopausal symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain. Some women also experience changes in their metabolism and cholesterol levels. Here are seven things women with breast cancer should know about menopause. Chemotherapy can cause temporary menopause Chemotherapy fights cancer by attacking any rapidly growing cells. Women receiving chemotherapy – regardless of the type of cancer they’ve been diagnosed with – are at risk of the drugs attacking the ovaries. “Chemotherapy basically puts the ovaries to sleep,” Lim says. The ovaries stop processing the eggs, the woman stops having a period and she goes into temporary menopause. In most cases, menstruation returns naturally eight months to two years after chemotherapy stops. However, research shows that women who experience temporary menopause during treatment tend to go into complete menopause earlier than others. “But it really depends on the patient,” Lim adds. However, if a woman is already nearing menopause, chemotherapy may put her into complete menopause and her period may never return. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about whether your menopausal symptoms are permanent. “Bloodwork can help us understand what’s happening and prepare you for the future,” Lim says....

Young adult thyroid cancer patient grateful for personalized care

After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at age 15, I began having my thyroid monitored regularly. In 2012, during a checkup in Tyler, Texas, an ultrasound showed two abnormal nodules.  I visited an endocrinologist, who told me not to worry. But in 2017, I started noticing changes in my voice. I had trouble swallowing, major fatigue and flu-like symptoms. I decided to seek a second opinion. That’s how I found out, at age 25, that I had stage I papillary thyroid cancer. The internet helped me choose MD Anderson I used the internet to decide where I should go for thyroid cancer treatment. I wanted to find someone who had the best qualifications and could offer the best treatment for someone my age. I also wanted to learn about my doctors before my first appointment. On MD Anderson’s website, I got to know Dr. Jeena Varghese and Dr. Elizabeth Grubbs before I ever met them. I appreciated learning about their experience treating thyroid cancer. Personalized thyroid cancer treatment with my age in mind My care team always considered my age when weighing my treatment options. We decided on a total thyroidectomy. It was important to me that my scarring was minimal and that I didn’t lose my voice. My care team knew that I might have trouble healing after the procedure, and understanding the potential complications of my surgery, Dr. Grubbs consulted plastic surgeon Dr. David Adelman. He suggested using cow collagen to promote healing and minimize scarring after my thyroidectomy. Dr. Adelman had used cow collagen in reconstructive surgery for many other patients with difficult wounds. My...

Osteosarcoma survivor: Life after cancer can be amazing

Although it's been 18 years, I still clearly remember how scared my family was when I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my right femur at age 18. Looking back, I believe my youth and lack of understanding surrounding cancer kept my own anxiety in check. I’d noticed the bump above my knee but didn’t think much of it at the time. A family friend, who happened to be an orthopaedic surgeon, urged me to get an X-ray. After examining the images, he told my parents to make me an appointment at MD Anderson. He suspected that I had cancer and wanted me to receive the best treatment available. Not only was I young and supposed to have my whole life ahead of me; I was also in my second trimester of pregnancy with my second child. Starting osteosarcoma treatment while pregnant Expecting a baby added a layer of complication to my treatment. I discussed several options with my care team, led by Dr. Robert Benjamin. I decided to wait until my third trimester to begin chemotherapy in order to give my daughter as much time as possible to grow and develop. Thankfully, the waiting period was only a few weeks. I was scheduled to begin chemotherapy treatment on Sept. 11, 2001. Given the uncertainty and fear that surrounded the country that morning, my treatment was postponed briefly. I did three rounds of the chemotherapy drugs Adriamycin and Cisplatin, then delivered my daughter six weeks early in November 2001. She was perfect and had a full head of hair, which surprised my doctors. Since she was born early, she stayed...

Why I’ve devoted my career to cancer prevention

If you had told me years ago that one day all I’d be doing was preventive medicine — and it would all be related to cancer — I’d have said you were crazy. I am not an oncologist. My board certification is in family medicine. Still, when I was offered the position of medical director at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center in 1996, I accepted. It was such a new field then that I appreciated the challenge. But I thought I’d stay only four or five years. And here I still am, nearly 25 years later. How I got into preventive medicine I always knew I wanted to work in health care. My maternal grandmother had hip surgery when I was 10, and I helped nurse her. I’d go get her medications, then take them in to her on a tray. I also changed her bandages and helped her get around. She needed a lot of care. It was because of that experience that I thought I wanted to become a nurse. So, when I went off to college, my major was nursing. But I rapidly learned that nursing wasn’t my strength. Thankfully, a good advisor steered me toward medical school. I found my niche in family medicine. Once I entered private practice, I didn’t think I would like doing well-woman exams at first. But then I realized that my interactions with patients during those visits tended to be much calmer and more productive than the ones I had with them when they were sick or injured. And I could really do some things to help people,...

Why I’ve devoted my career to cancer prevention

If you had told me years ago that one day all I’d be doing was preventive medicine — and it would all be related to cancer — I’d have said you were crazy. I am not an oncologist. My board certification is in family medicine. Still, when I was offered the position of medical director at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center in 1996, I accepted. It was such a new field then that I appreciated the challenge. But I thought I’d stay only four or five years. And here I still am, nearly 25 years later. How I got into preventive medicine I always knew I wanted to work in health care. My maternal grandmother had hip surgery when I was 10, and I helped nurse her. I’d go get her medications, then take them in to her on a tray. I also changed her bandages and helped her get around. She needed a lot of care. It was because of that experience that I thought I wanted to become a nurse. So, when I went off to college, my major was nursing. But I rapidly learned that nursing wasn’t my strength. Thankfully, a good advisor steered me toward medical school. I found my niche in family medicine. Once I entered private practice, I didn’t think I would like doing well-woman exams at first. But then I realized that my interactions with patients during those visits tended to be much calmer and more productive than the ones I had with them when they were sick or injured. And I could really do some things to help people,...