What are menopausal symptoms?

Menopausal symptoms

Some breast cancer treatments can affect the way the ovaries work, resulting in women starting their menopause earlier than expected. Other treatments may cause a temporary menopause or side effects similar to menopausal symptoms.

Before menopause the ovaries produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which control a woman’s monthly cycle (periods). Women naturally stop having regular periods usually between their mid-40s and mid-50s. The menopause happens when the ovaries stop producing the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

This change in hormone levels can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • hot flushes and sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • needing to pass urine more often
  • a lower sex drive
  • tiredness
  • sleeplessness
  • dry skin
  • aches and pains
  • mood swings
  • loss of confidence and poor concentration.

Women may have just one of these symptoms or more, and they can vary from mild to more severe.

The menopause, and particularly an early menopause, may also cause other effects on the body. These include thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and heart disease. These effects develop at different rates in different people. Their tendency to develop is, at least partly, passed on from your parents (genetically determined).

Breast cancer treatments and menopause

Chemotherapy may bring on an early menopause, especially in women who are closer to their natural menopause. 

Breast cancer treatment often involves hormonal therapy to block the effects of oestrogen on breast cancer cells, or to reduce oestrogen levels. These hormonal treatments may cause menopausal symptoms or a temporary menopause.

Sometimes breast cancer treatment may involve a woman having her ovaries removed with surgery. Rarely, a woman may have radiotherapy to the ovaries to stop them working. These treatments cause permanent menopause.

Infertility

A permanent menopause means that you won’t be able to have children (infertility). Infertility can be very difficult for women to deal with, especially if you wanted to have children or to add to your family. It can be particularly hard when you’re already coping with cancer. We have more information about fertility in women. Talking about your feelings with your partner (if you have one), family and friends, or your nurse or doctor may be helpful. If you feel you need more help you can talk to your doctor about a referral to a counsellor.

Back to Menopausal symptoms

Managing menopausal symptoms

There are different ways of managing and reducing menopausal symptoms. Your breast care nurse can give you advice about this.