If your ovaries have been damaged by radiation therapy or chemotherapy, or they’ve been surgically removed, your body will no longer produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. When these hormones are no longer made, women stop having periods. This is called menopause. For most women, menopause is a natural and gradual process that starts between the ages of 45 and 55.
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Symptoms of menopause can include hot flushes, mood swings, trouble sleeping (insomnia), tiredness and vaginal dryness. You may also have a decreased interest in sex (low libido).
Menopause may cause other changes in the body. For example, over time, your bones may become weak and brittle, and break more easily. This is called osteoporosis. Your cholesterol levels may rise, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
The symptoms of sudden menopause are usually more severe than a natural menopause, because the body hasn’t had time to get used to a gradual decrease in the levels of oestrogen and progesterone.
Oestrogen-alone hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has been shown to be an effective treatment for menopausal symptoms and to help prevent osteoporosis. For more information about dealing with the symptoms of menopause and whether HRT is right for you, talk to your doctor or ask for a referral to a specialist menopause clinic.
- Talk to your doctor about having a bone density test or taking medicines to prevent osteoporosis.
- Regular exercise will help keep your bones strong. Visit Osteoporosis Australia or call 1800 242 141 for more information.
- Ask your doctor to check your cholesterol levels. If they are high, regular exercise and a balanced diet may help them improve. If not, talk to your doctor about cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Your doctor can suggest dietary changes and suitable exercises.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting or call the Quitline on 13 7848.
- Try meditation and relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and lessen symptoms.
When cancer treatment causes early menopause, the impact on your emotions, body image and relationships can be significant.
If you are a young woman, experiencing menopause much earlier than you expected may affect your sense of identity, or make you feel older than your age or peers.
If you are an older woman, going through menopause earlier than you expected may be upsetting. But some older women say they feel relieved to not have to worry about regular periods.
You may find it difficult to start new intimate relationships after going through menopause. For more on this, see Relationships and sexuality.
It may take time to accept the changes you’re experiencing. Talking to a family member, friend or counsellor may help.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecological Oncologists, TAS; Karina Campbell, Consumer; Carmen Heathcote, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland; Prof Martin K Oehler, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Dr Megan Smith, Program Manager – Cervix, Cancer Council NSW; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator – Gynaecology, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, WA; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician, Physiotherapy Department, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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