Menopausal symptoms and fertility
The treatments for cervical cancer may cause menopausal symptoms and affect your fertility. There are different treatment options for coping with these effects.
If you’ve had a hysterectomy and your ovaries have been removed, or if you’ve had radiotherapy to the pelvis, you will go through the menopause if you haven’t done so already. Some types of chemotherapy can also bring on an early menopause.
Menopausal symptoms can include:
dryness of the vagina
feeling low or anxious
being less interested in sex.
Many of these effects can be eased by hormone creams, skin patches or tablets, which can all be prescribed by your doctor. These replace the hormones that are normally produced by the ovaries. However, these hormone replacement therapies may not be suitable for all women. Your doctor will let you know if they are suitable for you.
If dryness of the vagina is a problem, your doctor can prescribe creams or you can buy lubricating gels such as Sylk® or Astroglide® from the chemist. You can also buy organic lubricants online, such as Yes®. You or your partner can apply them directly to the penis or vagina during sex.
An organisation called the Daisy Network supports women who have an early menopause. You may find it helpful to contact them if you feel you need a bit more support.
Pelvic radiotherapy or surgical removal of your womb or ovaries will mean you are no longer able to have children. Some chemotherapy drugs may also affect your fertility.
This can feel devastating. Infertility is very hard to come to terms with, especially if you were planning to start a family in the future, or to have more children to complete your family. The sense of loss can be very painful and distressing for people of all ages. Sometimes it can feel as though you have actually lost a part of yourself. You may also feel less feminine because you can’t have children.
It’s important to discuss any concerns you have about your fertility with your healthcare team before treatment starts. They can discuss any options you may have for preserving your fertility. For example, you may be able to store embryos (fertilised eggs), or have your eggs frozen and stored for future use. This would have to happen before treatment starts. Ovarian tissue that contains eggs can also be removed for future use, but this is still a very experimental technique.
If you would like to have fertility treatment, your hospital team will refer you to a fertility specialist. Embryo storage may be available on the NHS, but you often have to pay privately for other treatments.
People react differently to the risk of infertility. Some women may come to terms with it more quickly and feel that dealing with the cancer is more important. Others may accept the news calmly when they start treatment, and find that they don’t feel the full impact until the treatment is over and they are sorting out their lives again.
There is no right or wrong way to react. If you have a partner, it’s important for them to be involved in any discussions about fertility and future plans. You may both need to speak to a professional counsellor or therapist specialising in fertility problems. They can help you come to terms with your situation.
Your doctor may be able to refer you to a specialist. Our cancer support specialists can discuss any problems you may have and they can also help you find a counsellor who can offer you help and advice.
Diane's treatment for breast cancer meant that she went through the menopause. Hear how it affected her and how she coped.