- Cancer Information
- Managing side effects
- Sexuality, intimacy and cancer
- Overcoming specific challenges
- Early menopause
Menopause occurs when your ovaries stop working and you have not menstruated for one year. This means you will not be able to fall pregnant naturally. For most females, this happens naturally between 45 and 55.
Learn more about:
- Menopausal symptoms
- Effects of menopause
- Treatments that can cause early menopause
- Tips for managing menopause symptoms
Most menopause symptoms are related to a drop in your body’s oestrogen levels. These may include aching joints, mood changes, hot flushes, night sweats, trouble sleeping, a dry vagina, reduced libido, dry or itchy skin, increased urinary frequency and “fuzzy” thinking.
Early menopause (or premature ovarian insufficiency or POI) is the term for menopause that occurs before the age of 40. When this happens because of cancer treatment, it may be called induced menopause. When menopause starts suddenly, the symptoms are usually more severe than natural menopause because your body hasn’t had time to get used to the gradual loss of hormones. Premature menopause may also cause bones to weaken (known as osteoporosis or osteopenia).
The loss of menstruation and fertility earlier than you expected may affect your sense of identity, or make you feel older than your age or friends. You may feel less feminine, and worry that you are less attractive.
Several cancer treatments can result in menopausal symptoms or early menopause. These treatments include: surgery in which both of your ovaries are removed; hormone therapy to decrease your ovaries’ production of oestrogen; and radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which may affect your ovaries’ ability to produce eggs and hormones.
If your uterus is removed (hysterectomy) but one of your ovaries remains, you will no longer have monthly periods or be able to carry a child, but you will continue to produce oestrogen and can still go through natural menopause at the normal stage of life. If both of your ovaries and/or your uterus are removed, your periods will stop and you will experience a surgical menopause.
See Coping with vaginal changes for information about fertility issues and tips on coping with a dry vagina caused by menopause.
- If cancer treatment causes early menopause, consider seeing a menopause clinic to discuss the options for managing symptoms.
- Identify and avoid things that trigger hot flushes, such as alcohol, hot drinks, spicy foods or anxiety.
- Learn meditation and relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and lessen symptoms.
- Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopausal symptoms. There are also non-hormonal options, such as acupuncture, that you could try.
- Ask your GP to arrange a bone density test to check for osteoporosis/osteopenia, which can develop after menopause.
- Eat high-calcium foods and/or take a calcium and vitamin D supplement, and exercise regularly to strengthen your bones and help reduce the rate of bone loss. Osteoporosis Australia has more information – call 1800 242 141.
Helena Green, Clinical Sexologist and Counsellor, inSync for Life, WA; Anita Brown-Major, Occupational Therapist, Thrive Rehab, VIC; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Consultant, Gynae-oncology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Headway Health and Concord Hospital, NSW; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Kath Schubach, Urology Nurse Practitioner, President – Australia and New Zealand Urological Nurses Society (ANZUNS), VIC; Prof Jane Ussher, Chair, Women’s Health Psychology, Translational Health Research Institute (THRI), School of Medicine, Western Sydney University, NSW; Maria Voukelatos, Consumer. We would like to thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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