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Chemotherapy| can affect the ovaries and bring on an early menopause, and some hormonal treatments| can cause menopausal symptoms or stop the ovaries working.
If this happens, younger women may start their menopause earlier than expected, or have menopausal symptoms due to the treatment itself.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) isn’t usually recommended after breast cancer because it contains oestrogen, which could encourage the cancer to grow. Some doctors may prescribe HRT in situations where a woman’s symptoms are severe and nothing else has helped. It’s important to talk this through with your cancer specialist to make sure that you‘re clear about the possible risks and benefits.
There’s more information about how menopausal symptoms can be treated in our section on breast cancer and menopausal symptoms|.
Some of the more common symptoms of menopause are described here.
This is the most common menopausal symptom. Hot flushes can vary from a mild feeling of warmth in the face to a drenching night sweat. Flushes and night sweats can disrupt your sleep pattern.
Getting too warm, drinking tea, coffee, alcohol, or eating certain foods may bring on a hot flush. Keep a record of when you have flushes to find out what triggers them, and you can try to avoid them.
Certain drugs can be used to treat hot flushes. For example, low doses of antidepressants such as venlafaxine, can be effective. Megestrol acetate, which contains progestogen, is also effective in treating hot flushes, but some doctors have concerns about using it. An anti-epilepsy drug called gabapentin has also been shown to be helpful.
Different creams can help with this. Replens MD® is a non-hormonal cream that you apply 2-3 times a week. It boosts blood flow in the vagina. Water-based lubricants, such as Senselle®, KY-Jelly®, Astroglide® and Sylk® can help to reduce discomfort from vaginal dryness during sex.
There are also pessaries/creams (Vagifem®, Ovestin® and Ortho-Gynest®) that contain a small amount of oestrogen, which can be prescribed in low doses. Many breast specialists think that very little of the oestrogen in the creams and pessaries is absorbed by the body.
The psychological effects of menopausal symptoms can be hard to cope with when you already have to deal with the physical effects of cancer. Psychological effects can include a lower sex drive|, mood swings, lack of confidence, and a loss of concentration and memory.
A number of organisations, including The Daisy Network,| provide support to women going through the menopause. Many women find it helpful to talk through their feelings with their doctor or nurse, or with family and friends. You may also find it helps to talk things through with a professional counsellor.
Becoming infertile| can be very hard for some women to live with, whether they already have children or not. Fertility is a very important part of many people’s lives, and not being able to have children can seem especially hard when you already have cancer to cope with. Some women may find it helpful to talk through their feelings with a trained counsellor. If you need more specialised help, your doctor can arrange this for you.
Content last reviewed: 1 September 2010
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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