Cancer and the menopause

How treatment affects the menopause

Some cancer treatments can affect the way the ovaries work. They can stop the ovaries working, which can cause an early menopause for some women.

Before menopause, the ovaries produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These control a woman’s monthly cycle (periods). During menopause, periods gradually stop as the ovaries stop producing these hormones. For most women, this usually happens naturally between the ages of 45 and 55.

Different cancer treatments can cause an early menopause. These include:

Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse can explain if your treatment is likely to cause an early menopause.

You may need blood tests to measure your hormone levels to find out if treatment has caused an early menopause.

Menopause symptoms

The change in hormone levels can cause symptoms, including:

  • hot flushes and sweats
  • vaginal dryness
  • loss of interest in sex
  • difficulty sleeping
  • dry skin
  • aches and pains
  • needing to pass urine (pee) more often
  • weight gain
  • mood swings
  • loss of confidence
  • poor concentration.

Most women have some of these symptoms. The symptoms can vary from mild to more severe. For some women, they last for many years. The symptoms are sometimes worse if menopause has happened suddenly because of cancer treatments.

Menopause, and particularly an early menopause, can also cause increase your risk of developing other health problems. These include thinning of the bones (osteoporosis) and heart disease.

Infertility

A permanent menopause means that you will not be able to have children (infertility). 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 are already coping with cancer.

We have more information about cancer and fertility in women. It may be helpful to talk about your feelings with a partner, if you have one, family and friends, or your specialist nurse or cancer doctor. If you feel you need more help, talk to them about being referred to a counsellor.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Depending on the type of cancer you have, you may be able to take HRT to replace the hormones your ovaries are no longer producing.

You can take HRT as:

  • a tablet
  • skin patches
  • a gel to rub into the skin
  • an implant.

HRT has benefits and risks, so it is important to talk to your cancer doctor before taking it.

If you have a hormone related cancer, doctors do not usually recommend HRT. You can find more information about this in our information on the type of cancer you have.

In other cancers when treatment causes an early menopause, your doctor may prescribe HRT. It can improve menopause symptoms and help protect your bones and heart. Ask your cancer doctor if HRT is suitable for you.

If your cancer doctor does not recommend HRT for you or you do not want to take it, there are different ways to manage menopause symptoms.

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