What are menopausal symptoms?

Some breast cancer treatments can affect the way the ovaries work. This can cause an early menopause for some women. Other treatments may cause a temporary menopause or side effects like menopausal symptoms.

Before menopause, the ovaries produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These 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 oestrogen and progesterone.

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

  • hot flushes and sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • a loss of interest in sex
  • urinary problems
  • 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. Some women don’t get any serious symptoms.

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

Breast cancer treatments and menopause

  • Chemotherapy – may bring on an early menopause, especially in women who are close to their natural menopause.
  • Hormonal therapy – may cause menopausal symptoms, a temporary menopause or bring on an early permanent menopause.
  • Surgery – occasionally breast cancer treatment may involve an operation to remove the ovaries. This will cause permanent menopause.

Infertility

Both chemotherapy and hormonal treatment can result in infertility. Women shouldn’t become pregnant when taking hormonal therapy, which usually continues for 5 to 10 years.

Infertility can be very difficult to deal with, especially if you wanted to have children or add to your family. It can be particularly hard when you’re already coping with cancer.

There are organisations that offer support to women with fertility problems. Talking about your feelings with your partner (if you have one), family and friends, or your breast care 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.