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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The symptoms of menopause caused by cancer treatment are usually more severe than during a natural menopause, because the body hasn’t had time to get used to a gradual decrease in the hormone levels. Symptoms can include hot flushes, mood swings, trouble sleeping (insomnia), tiredness and vaginal dryness. Menopause may cause other changes in the body over time, such as:
- low libido – you may be less interested in sex
- osteoporosis – this is when your bones become weak and brittle and may break more easily
- high cholesterol – cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the blood; having high levels can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Menopause hormone therapy (MHT), previously known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), is medicine that replaces the hormones usually produced by the ovaries. It has been shown to treat menopausal symptoms and help prevent osteoporosis. There are also non-hormonal drugs that can help. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of MHT, and other ways to deal with the symptoms of menopause.
- 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 Healthy Bones 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 reduce them. If levels don’t improve, 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. Listen to our podcast Finding Calm During Cancer.
- If you have ongoing symptoms, ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist menopause clinic.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Dr Pearly Khaw, Lead Radiation Oncologist, Gynae-Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Deborah Neesham, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Frances Perry House, VIC; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, VIC; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Hospital, ACT; Krystle Drewitt, Consumer; Shannon Philp, Nurse Practitioner, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, NSW; Dr Robyn Sayer, Gynaecological Oncologist Cancer Surgeon, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Megan Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Cancer Council NSW; Melissa Whalen, Consumer.
We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.