Unique Issues for Young Women with Breast Cancer
Will I be able to have a baby? Will the treatment trigger early menopause? What about my sex life? Women under 40 who are diagnosed with breast cancer face some very unique challenges.
Although breast cancer in young women is rare, a significant number of cases occur in women who are 40 years or younger. “Age matters because the behavior of the tumors in younger women is typically more aggressive in comparison with older women,” says Monica Valero, MD, a breast surgical oncologist at the BreastCare Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Director of BIDMC’s Hispanic Breast Cancer program.
How does breast cancer impact women in their 20s and 30s? “Young women undergoing treatment for breast cancer may experience issues associated with early menopause, fertility and intimacy concerns,” Valero says.
Some treatment options, like hormone therapy, chemotherapy and certain surgeries, depend upon the type of breast cancer you have, as well as your menopausal status. “Certain treatments can cause an abrupt decline in hormones, which can trigger irregular periods or stop your cycle altogether,” Valero says.
If this occurs, women may experience typical menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness and loss of bone density. “There are also psychological side effects of early menopause, like mood swings and depression,” Valero says. “Patients sometimes feel a loss of youthfulness and femininity.
Valero explains how her team works closely with oncology social work colleagues to help young women cope with changes. “BIDMC offers counseling, peer support groups and other important services, such as helping our patients find appropriate financial assistance,” she says.
Many young women consider fertility options before undergoing treatment.
“Some young patients haven’t had children yet or want more,” Valero says. “If the best treatment plan for you will result in early menopause, we will talk about seeing a fertility specialist to discuss possibilities for future pregnancies.”
BIDMC’s team is dedicated to making a plan that best suits you and your family.
Loss of sexual desire is common among women treated for breast cancer. Treatments can impact estrogen levels which may also affect sexual health and function, including physical changes in the vulvar and vaginal areas. “Dryness can make sexual encounters painful, resulting in loss of sexual drive or desire,” Valero explains. It may take time for women to feel physically and emotionally well enough for sexual intimacy.
BIDMC’s Center for Intimate Health and Wellness provides holistic and advanced treatment for women who may have issues with intimate wellness.
“BIDMC’s BreastCare Center team works together with you to provide personalized care with the best results,” Valero says.