The ovaries produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. If both ovaries have been removed or if you’ve had radiation therapy to the pelvic area, you will no longer produce these hormones and you will 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. If you have not already entered menopause, these treatments will cause sudden menopause. If you have already been through menopause, the symptoms of menopause may come back.
Menopausal symptoms include:
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- dry or itchy skin
- mood swings
- trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- aching joints
- vaginal dryness
- weight gain
- bladder problems
- decreased interest in sex (low libido).
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 the gradual decrease in hormone levels.
Menopause may cause other changes in the body. For example, your cholesterol levels may rise, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Over time, your bones may become weak and brittle, and break more easily. This is called osteoporosis. Radiation therapy to the pelvis can also weaken the bones.
Tips for managing menopausal symptoms
- Vaginal moisturisers available over the counter at pharmacies can help with vaginal discomfort and dryness
- Ask your doctor if you need to avoid products containing oestrogen. They can suggest non‑hormonal medicines to relieve the symptoms of menopause.
- If your menopausal symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking menopause hormone therapy (MHT), previously called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). MHT is not usually used for uterine cancer because oestrogen may cause the cancer to grow. If you were already on MHT when the cancer was diagnosed, you may need to consider stopping its use.
- Talk to your doctor about having a bone density test or taking medicine to prevent your bones from becoming weak. Regular exercise will also help keep your bones strong. For more information, see Osteoporosis Australia on 1800 242 141.
- Have your cholesterol levels checked. If they are high, regular exercise and a balanced diet may help. If not, talk to your doctor about cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- Learn meditation and relaxation techniques, which may reduce stress and lessen some of the symptoms of menopause.
- Ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist menopause clinic if needed.
- Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has been shown to help with many of the effects of menopause, including anxiety. Exercise can also help with mood changes and energy levels.
- You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk to a health professional about your concerns.
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A/Prof Jim Nicklin, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Associate Professor Gynaecologic Oncology, The University of Queensland, QLD; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Prof Michael Friedlander, Medical Oncologist, The Prince of Wales Hospital and Conjoint Professor of Medicine, The University of NSW, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Adele Hudson, Statewide Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Oncology Service, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Dr Anthony Richards, Gynaecological Oncologist, The Royal Women’s Hospital and Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, VIC; Georgina Richter, Gynaecological Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
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