Cancer and Fertility
- Sarah McDonald was about to receive an IVF treatment when she first learned she had oral cancer. So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer too, she was warned of the fertility issues she may face after treatment.
- Despite the doctor’s doubts about McDonald getting pregnant, the eBay employee defied the odds and gave birth to a healthy baby girl at age 48.
- Oral cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the mouth or the throat. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year.
- When you are diagnosed with stage three breast cancer it typically refers to a relatively large tumor, which may have invaded nearby skin or muscle tissue. It may also mean that lymph nodes near your breast and/or under your armpit are involved.
- Whether it is a preference for a certain medication, lifestyle adjustments you will have to make, or your plans for the future — don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to your medical team after a cancer diagnosis. For younger people diagnosed, a common concern is: will I be able to have children after cancer treatment?
The California resident was about to receive an IVF treatment when she first learned she had oral cancer. So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer too, she was warned of the fertility issues she may face after treatment. Despite the doctor’s doubts about McDonald getting pregnant in the future, the eBay employee defied the odds and gave birth to a healthy baby girl at age 48.Read More
McDonald, who completed her year-long cancer treatment in January 2013 and wrote, is sharing her miraculous story and wrote about her journey in te book “The Cancer Channel: One year, Two Cancers, Three Miracles.”
She is now cancer-free and has given birth to her daughter, who is now six years old.
McDonald explained, “Two years after completing all cancer treatments, I was allowed to try IVF and I got pregnant. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl at the age of 48.”
The mom of one considers her daughter a miracle as she didn’t expect to get pregnant after taking a hormone-blocking medication, something doctors told her to take for 10 years but she chose to stop taking it.
“Cancer is going to continue to happen, so I hope to demystify and destigmatize the cancer diagnosis,” McDonald said.
“Hopefully by talking out loud [we can] make it easier for people, both the cancer patients as well as their coworkers and their managers, to talk about it,” she concluded.
Understanding Oral Cancer
Adenoid cystic carcinoma, the first cancer McDonald was diagnosed with, is a rare form of oral cancer which typically develops in the salivary glands.
Oral cancer is a type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the mouth or the throat. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with oral cancer every year.
It’s important to be aware of the factors that may increase the risk of oral cancer, such as tobacco use, heavy alcohol consumption, and excessive sun exposure to the lips.
These cancers tend to cause lesions to form in the mouth — and anyone concerned about something that’s popped up should see a doctor immediately to rule out oral cancer.
There are also steps we can all take to reduce our risks. Not smoking and being cognizant of how much we drink are obvious choices, but in recent years, there have been great developments when it comes to preventing HPV-linked cancers as well.
Many people assume that HPV can only cause cancer in women due to its link to cervical cancer. However, the virus can also cause cancer in the head and neck.
Dr. Jessica Geiger Explains Why The HPV Vaccine Is So Important In Cancer Prevention
“We recommend strongly that children are vaccinated against HPV to prevent cervical cancer, but also to prevent head and neck cancer,” Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist specializing in head and neck cancer at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet. “HPV is spread through sexual contact. Now the key with the vaccine is that you received the vaccine before you ever reach sexual debut or have sexual encounters.”
The vaccine is recommended because HPV is so widespread in Western society, Dr. Geiger said. “Fortunately, for the majority of us — over 90% — we clear the virus without ever knowing that we were exposed. However, in a small subset — 6% or 7% of the population — the virus remains dormant in our body. And over time, meaning decades after we were first exposed, the virus gets into our DNA, and likes to settle in the tissues of the cervix or the back of the throat, and can ultimately cause changes that form cancer.”
Understanding Stage Three Breast Cancer
When you are diagnosed with stage three breast cancer it typically refers to a relatively large tumor, which may have invaded nearby skin or muscle tissue. It may also mean that lymph nodes near your breast and/or under your armpit are involved.
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical advisor to SurvivorNet and a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, adds “it also means that most women who’ve been diagnosed with stage three cancer are going to end up needing chemotherapy and if their tumor is hormone receptor positive, likely aggressive hormone therapy, as well.”
What is Stage 3 Breast Cancer?
How To Perform Self-Exams
Getting to know how your breasts look and feel may be one of the best ways to recognize when something is not quite right. “When we think about breast cancer prevention and awareness, the first step is that women need to feel comfortable with their breast and know what their breasts feel like normally,” says Dr. Comen. Here’s how, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation:
- While standing straight in front of a mirror, place your hands on your hips and look at your breasts for any swelling, bulging, changes in shape of breast or nipple (inverted), redness, rashes, or any fluid leaking. Then do the same with your arms in the air.
- Next, while lying down, use your right hand to examine your left breast and vice versa, while using your first three fingers to apply pressure. Ensure you cover the entire breast area, from your collarbone to below your ribcage and from your armpit to your cleavage area. Do the same self-exam standing or sitting up. Be sure to use light to medium pressure for the middle breast area and firmer pressure when feeling deep breast tissue.
Getting To Know Your Breasts With Self-Exams
Once you get the hang of it, Dr. Comen recommends you do it once a month – after your period. However, it should be emphasized that breast self-examination is NOT a replacement for mammography.
Related: Worried Cancer Nurse, 26, Was Told By Doctors A Breast Lump Was ‘Probably Nothing’ Or ‘Hormonal’ Because She Was Young: It Turned Out To Be Cancer
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Being aware of how your breasts normally look and feel is an important factor when it comes to breast cancer detection. Doing regular self-exams is one way to familiarize yourself with how your breasts normally feel so that you will be able to identify anything out of the ordinary like a lump or hard mass.
Below are some other symptoms to look out for:
- New lump in the breast or underarm (armpit)
- Any change in the size or shape of the breast
- Swelling on all or part of the breast
- Skin dimpling or peeling
- Breast or nipple pain
- Nipple turning inward
- Redness or scaliness of breast or nipple skin
- Nipple discharge (not associated with breastfeeding)
Of course, these symptoms can be due to things other than cancer. For example, a lot of women experience breast tenderness during certain times in their menstrual cycles. If you’re worried — talk to your doctor about it. They may want to perform an exam, or even schedule a mammogram just to be safe.
The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30.
Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
Advocating For Your Concerns
Whether it is a preference for a certain medication, lifestyle adjustments you will have to make, or your plans for the future — don’t be afraid to voice your concerns to your medical team after a cancer diagnosis. For younger people diagnosed, a common concern is: will I be able to have children after cancer treatment?
“E! News” host Giuliana Rancic, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 36, previously told SurvivorNet that she encourages other women to be vocal about fertility concerns — a topic that may feel uncomfortable, or even inappropriate, when dealing with a serious diagnosis.
“I get a lot of young women who come up to me and ask me about breast cancer and having children … They’ll say, ‘I just got diagnosed with breast cancer. What does that mean for my journey to have a child?’ First and foremost, it’s talking to your doctor and letting them know, this was my plan.”
Rancic explained that she and her husband were planning to have children down the road, so they were able to work that into her treatment plan.
“E! News” Host & Cancer Survivor Giuliana Rancic Encourages Others To Speak Up About Their Concerns
“For me, I’d been through the first part of IVF, which was the retrieval, so I had embryos. But I knew that the medicine I was about to go on would not allow me to be pregnant for five years. Here I am. I’m 36. I already was having issues getting pregnant. So five years from now, what are my chances? … So for us, the best option was a surrogate.”
“It’s very important to ask any question that’s on your mind. If it matters to you, that’s all that matters,” she added.
And that sentiment doesn’t just go for fertility issues. You should feel comfortable incorporating what you want into your treatment plan — whatever that may be.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- What might my symptoms mean? What plan can we make to deal with them?
- Are other treatment options available in my situation?
- What will the timeline for my treatment look like?
- What literature can you give me about my treatment plan?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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