Life After Cancer: Menopause After Treatment
Some cancer treatments include taking out a woman’s ovaries. Or the treatment may cause the ovaries to stop working. This can lead to symptoms of menopause. These can cause problems with everyday life. And menopause puts you at risk for other health problems. But there are things you can do to manage menopause after cancer.
What is menopause?
Menopause is when a woman stops having menstrual periods. Normally, it happens slowly as a woman ages. Over time, the ovaries make less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormone changes can cause symptoms. They can include:
- Hot flashes
- Weight changes
- Low sex drive
Why menopause can happen after cancer treatment
Menopause can happen if cancer treatment affects a woman’s ovaries. The ovaries may be damaged by radiation therapy and not work normally. Or the ovaries may be affected by medicines. Taking medicine such as tamoxifen can cause symptoms of menopause. Chemotherapy can cause the symptoms of menopause for months or years after treatment. Sometimes these hormone changes happen quickly. This can make the symptoms worse.
In younger women, menopause symptoms may stop after treatment. Normal menstrual periods may start again. In older women, the menopause is more likely to be lasting. No matter what a woman’s age is, if the ovaries are removed she will have permanent menopause.
Talk with your healthcare provider about the cancer treatment you had and if it can cause menopause.
Symptoms of menopause
You may have symptoms such as:
Sudden feeling of warmth (hot flash) many times a day
Hot flashes during sleep (night sweats)
Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)
Low sex drive
Vagina pain during sex
Managing your symptoms
Try these strategies:
Hot flashes. Wear layers of clothes that are easy to remove. Wear all-cotton clothing.
Night sweats. Use all-cotton sheets and blankets you can remove easily. Keep a glass of water and a small fan by your bed.
Vagina pain during sex. Use a water-based lubricant or vaginal moisturizer.
Mood swings. Try relaxation therapy or acupuncture. Talk with a cognitive behavioral therapist to help manage mood changes.
Low sex drive. Talk with your partner about other ways to be intimate when you’re not feeling your best.
Insomnia. Ask your healthcare provider about medicine that may help you get more sleep.
Staying healthy after menopause
Menopause can cause some problems with a woman’s health. These can include:
Bone loss. After menopause, bones can start to thin. This increases your risk for bone breaks.
Weight gain. It’s easier to gain weight after menopause. This is because of the changes in hormone levels.
Heart disease. Women who have gone through menopause have a higher risk for heart disease. This includes problems such as high blood pressure and heart attack.
You can help yourself stay healthy by:
Eating a healthy diet. Healthy foods can help you manage your weight and lower your risk for heart disease. They may also boost your mood.
Getting physical activity. Get plenty of weight-bearing activity. This includes walking or running. This kind of exercise can help keep bones stronger and help prevent breaks. Exercise can also help you control your weight. And it may improve mood and sleep.
Taking supplements. Ask your healthcare provider about taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. These can help prevent bone loss.
Not smoking. Smoking raises your risk for heart disease. And it’s not good for bone health.
Getting regular tests and exams. Get colon tests, pelvic exams, Pap tests, and mammograms as often as your healthcare provider advises.
About hormone therapy
Hormone therapy helps treat menopause symptoms. It’s done with medicines that have estrogen and progesterone. But women who have had cancer may not be able to use hormone therapy. This is because it may raise your risk of cancer coming back. Using bioidentical hormones from plant sources may also have this risk. Talk with your healthcare provider about hormone therapy. He or she will tell you if it’s not safe for you.
Working with your healthcare provider
Your gynecologist can help you manage menopause symptoms. Tell him or her about your symptoms. You can work together to help you feel better. If symptoms are very bad and affect your daily life, he or she may prescribe medicines that can help.
Some herbs and supplements may also help reduce menopause symptoms. But talk with your healthcare provider before taking any of these.
September 04, 2018
Cunningham, Louise, RN,Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS