Menopause means that a woman’s ovaries no longer produce eggs and her periods stop. For most women, menopause is a natural and gradual process that starts between the ages of 45 and 55.
Some cancer treatments, including certain chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy to the pelvic area, hormone treatment and surgery to remove the ovaries (oophorectomy), can cause symptoms of menopause. These symptoms can be temporary or permanent.
For women who want to have children, menopause can be devastating (see Fertility problems). If your family is complete or you didn’t want children, you may still have mixed emotions or worry about the impact of menopause on your relationship. Some women find menopause difficult because they feel it has taken away part of their identity as a woman.
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When menopause occurs suddenly as a result of cancer treatment, symptoms may be more severe because the body hasn’t had time to get used to the gradual decrease in hormone levels.
Symptoms may include hot flushes, sweating (especially at night), dry or itchy skin, loss of confidence, mood swings, anxiety, trouble sleeping, tiredness, loss of libido and vaginal dryness.
Many of these symptoms will eventually pass, although this may take months or a few years. Some women who have already been through menopause find that these symptoms return during or after treatment.
- Meditation and relaxation techniques may help reduce stress and lessen symptoms.
- Maintain a healthy weight and eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
- Ask your doctor for advice about diet changes or herbal remedies.
- Cholesterol levels can change after menopause, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Menopause can increase your risk of developing thinning of the bones.
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help reduce symptoms of menopause, but may not be recommended for some women who had hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer.
- If vaginal dryness is a problem, take more time before and during sex to give yourself time to become aroused and for the vagina to become more lubricated.
- Look for a vaginal moisturiser at the chemist to help with vaginal discomfort and dryness.
- See your doctor about trying an oestrogen cream, which may relieve vaginal dryness. If you need to avoid products containing oestrogen, talk to your doctor about non-hormonal medicines that may help with menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats.
- For more tips see Sexuality and intimacy.
- Ask whether your hospital has a menopause clinic. If you need help adjusting to menopause symptoms after cancer treatment, talk to your doctor about a referral.
Dr Haryana Dhillon, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, NSW; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jessica Barbon, Dietitian, Southern Adelaide Health Network, SA; Dr Anna Burger, Liaison Psychiatrist and Senior Staff Specialist, Psycho-oncology Clinic, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Elizabeth Dillon, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicineand Director, Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW; Nico le Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Amanda Piper, Manager, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kyle Smith, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, WA; Aaron Tan, Consumer; Dr Kate Webber, Medical Oncologist and Research Director, National Centre for Cancer Survivorship, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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