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)
- vaginal dryness
- weight gain
- bladder problems.
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.
A loss of oestrogen at menopause may cause bones to weaken and break more easily. This is known as osteoporosis. Radiation therapy to the pelvis can also weaken the bones.
Cholesterol levels can change after menopause. This can increase your risk of heart disease, so these levels will need to be monitored.
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Tips for managing menopausal symptoms
- Try vaginal moisturisers from pharmacies to help with vaginal discomfort and dryness.
- Ask your doctor if you need to avoid products containing oestrogen. They can suggest non-hormonal medicines for menopausal symptoms.
- If your menopausal symptoms are severe, talk to your gynaecological oncologist about the risks and benefits of taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to reduce the symptoms. HRT is not usually used in women with uterine cancer because oestrogen may cause the cancer to grow. If you were already on HRT 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 (or call them on 1800 242 141).
- Try to improve cholesterol levels with regular exercise and a balanced diet. You can also discuss cholesterol-lowering medicines with your doctor.
- Learn meditation and relaxation techniques, which may reduce stress and lessen some of the symptoms of menopause.
- Ask for a referral to a specialist menopause clinic if needed.
A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Jonathan Carter, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Dr Alison Davis, Medical Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, The Canberra Hospital, ACT; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Nicole Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Oncology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Jennifer Loveridge, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Gynaecology Cancer Nurse Coordinator, WA Cancer & Palliative Care Network, North Metropolitan Health Service, WA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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