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Life After Cancer: Menopause After Treatment 

Some cancer treatments include taking out a woman’s ovaries. Sometimes treatment makes the ovaries stop working. Cancer treatment that affects the ovaries can lead to menopause symptoms. These can affect your everyday life. Menopause puts you at risk for other health problems, too. But there are things you can do to manage menopause after cancer.                                                                                                                                 

What is menopause? 

Menopause is when a woman stops having menstrual periods. It happens slowly as a woman ages. Sometimes it's called the "change of life."

Over time, the ovaries make less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. This can cause symptoms, such as:

  • Hot flashes

  • Weight changes

  • Tiredness

  • Low sex drive

  • Dryness and thinning of the vaginal tissues, which can cause pain with sex

  • Bone thinning (called osteoporosis)

Why menopause can happen after cancer treatment 

Menopause can happen if cancer treatment affects a woman’s ovaries. For instance, the ovaries may need to be removed. Or they may be damaged by radiation therapy to the pelvis. They might be affected by medicines used to treat cancer. Hormone therapies, such as tamoxifen, can cause menopause symptoms. Chemotherapy can cause menopause symptoms for months or years after treatment. Sometimes these hormone changes happen quickly. This can make the symptoms worse. 

In younger women, menopause symptoms may stop after treatment. Normal periods may even start again. But in older women, menopause is more likely to be lasting. And for women of any age, removing the ovaries leads to permanent menopause. 

Talk with your healthcare provider about the cancer treatment you had and if it can cause menopause. 

Symptoms of menopause

You may have symptoms such as:

  • Sudden feeling of warmth (hot flash) many times a day

  • Hot flashes during sleep (night sweats)

  • Mood swings

  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Low sex drive

  • Vagina pain during sex 

  • Bladder control problems                                                          

Managing your symptoms 

Tell your healthcare provider about any changes you notice. They can talk with you about how to manage symptoms. You night also want to try these tips:

  • Hot flashes. Wear layers of clothes that are easy to remove. Wear all-cotton clothing.

  • Night sweats. Use all-cotton sheets and blankets you can remove easily. Keep a glass of water and a small fan by your bed.

  • Vagina pain during sex. Use a water-based lubricant.

  • Vaginal dryness and itching. Use a vaginal moisturizer a few times a week.

  • Mood swings. Try relaxation therapy or acupuncture. Talk with a cognitive behavioral therapist to help manage mood changes. You can also ask your provider about dietary supplements and prescription medicines that might be helpful.

  • Low sex drive. Talk with your partner about other ways to be intimate when you’re not feeling your best.

  • Insomnia. Ask your healthcare provider about prescription medicines that may help you get more sleep. 

Staying healthy after menopause 

Menopause can cause some problems with a woman’s health. These can include:

  • Bone loss (osteoporosis). After menopause, bones can start to thin. This raises your risk for bone breaks.

  • Weight gain. It’s easier to gain weight after menopause. This is because of the changes in hormone levels.

  • Heart disease. Women who have gone through menopause have a greater risk for heart disease. This includes problems such as high blood pressure and heart attack. 

You can help yourself stay healthy by:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Healthy foods can help you manage your weight. They can lower your risk for heart disease. They may also boost your mood.

  • Getting physical activity. Get plenty of weight-bearing activity. This includes walking or running. This kind of exercise can help keep bones stronger. It can help prevent bone breaks. Exercise can also help you control your weight. It may improve mood and sleep, too.

  • Taking supplements. Ask your healthcare provider about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. These can help prevent bone loss.

  • Not smoking. Smoking raises your risk for heart disease and many other problems. And it’s not good for bone health.

  • Getting regular tests and exams. Get bone density tests, colon tests, pelvic exams, Pap tests, and mammograms as often as your provider advises. 

About hormone therapy 

Hormone therapy helps treat menopause symptoms. It uses medicines that have estrogen and progesterone in them. But after cancer you may not be able to use hormone therapy. This is because it may raise your risk of cancer coming back. Using bioidentical hormones from plant sources may also raise your risk. Talk with your healthcare provider about hormone therapy. He or she will tell you if it’s not safe for you. 

Working with your healthcare provider

As you move on to life after cancer, your gynecologist may be the doctor that helps you manage menopause symptoms. Be sure they know about your cancer history. Talk about your symptoms. You can work together to help you feel better. If symptoms are very bad and affect your daily life, you may be given medicines that can help. 

Some herbs and supplements may also help reduce menopause symptoms. But talk with your healthcare provider before taking any of these. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Richard LoCicero MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2020
© 2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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