Effect of Cancer on Puberty in Adolescent Females
How Cancer Treatments Alter the Path to Adulthood
The side effects of cancer are already enough to deal with, but they’re even more complex for females in their adolescent years. If you’re reading this as a woman, you’ve already experienced the ups and downs of going through puberty. The changes, the hormones, the emotions–it all feels overwhelming for any adolescent as they figure out their identity and how they fit into the world. However, cancer treatments can alter the course of this crucial transformation for adolescent girls. Knowing more about these side effects can help you better support them through their journey.
Cancer Treatment Effects on Puberty
Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy are essential therapies for fighting the disease. However, these treatments can affect organs that create a delicate balance of hormones and potentially disrupt the normal progression of puberty. It’s important to know that young children are unlikely to have these side effects, as the slowing of growth occurs within 5 years of receiving treatment. Some of the effects on puberty include:
- Bone growth: Bones and muscle are very sensitive to treatments, so females who may typically experience a growth spurt during puberty are at risk for stunted growth if cancer treatment is within 5 years of puberty.
- Hormones & the endocrine system: Radiation or surgery near the head and neck can cause damage to the pituitary gland, the main part of the endocrine system that regulates hormones and stress responses. Treatments may slow the release of growth hormones for females, which can slow sexual maturity. Growth hormones can be used to reverse these side effects, but should be discussed with a doctor to understand the full picture.
- Ovaries and menstruation: Certain kinds of chemo can damage the ovaries. This is less likely to affect girls who haven’t been through puberty, but there is a risk for early or delayed puberty and menstruation. Girls may also experience irregular periods after treatment, although many women will experience irregularities regardless of treatments.
- Fertility: Many are worried that cancer treatments will affect their fertility, but many survivors live to have healthy children. If it’s a concern for you or your child, it’s important to mention this to your healthcare providers so they can let you know how cancer treatments will affect future fertility. There are also several options to preserve fertility in females with cancer, depending on the age of the person.
Emotional and Mental Health
Adolescence is already a time of emotional vulnerability, and a cancer diagnosis during puberty can exacerbate the emotional and psychological challenges faced by young girls. It may be helpful to still try and engage young girls with the activities a typical preteen/teen goes through. Whether it’s buying her first bra or having a sleepover with her friends, anything that feels like a normal teenage experience can help better her mental health and overall development.
Hope & Here to Serve
Despite these vast effects on puberty and development, there are several paths for females that can help alleviate these effects after completing life-saving cancer treatments. Although these treatments are strong on the body, they help save lives. Research is always ongoing, meaning that there will be more ways to address these side effects in the years to come.
Here to Serve can help support adolescent girls and their families as they navigate through the cancer journey. Check out the wide range of our services, and if you know a family with children who has received a recent cancer diagnosis, get help today!
Author: Emily Rogalin
Emily Rogalin is a copywriter in healthcare advertising in NYC. Having lost multiple members in her family to cancer, she is honored to help bring support to families on this difficult journey.
Information on the Here to Serve website is for educational and informational purposes only. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical guidance.