Life After Cancer: Menopause After Treatment 

Some cancer treatments involve taking out a woman’s ovaries, or causing them to stop working. This can lead to symptoms of menopause that can cause problems with everyday life. But there are things you can do to manage menopause after cancer.                                                                                                                                  

What is menopause? 

Menopause is when a woman stops having menstrual periods. Normally, it happens slowly as a woman ages. Over time, her ovaries make less of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormone changes cause the symptoms of menopause. These include hot flashes, weight changes, tiredness, and low sex drive.                                                       

Why menopause can happen after cancer treatment 

Menopause can happen if cancer treatment affects a woman’s ovaries. The ovaries may be damaged by radiation treatment and not work normally. Or the ovaries may be affected by medicines. Taking medicine such as tamoxifen can cause symptoms of menopause. Chemotherapy can cause the symptoms of menopause for months or years after treatment. Sometimes these hormone changes happen quickly, which can make the symptoms worse. 

In younger women, menopause symptoms may stop after treatment, and normal periods may start again. In older women, the menopause is more likely to be lasting. No matter what a woman’s age is, if the ovaries are removed she will have permanent menopause. 

Talk with your healthcare provider about the cancer treatment you had and if it can cause menopause. 

Symptoms of menopause 

You may have symptoms such as:

  • Sudden feeling of warmth (hot flash) many times a day

  • Hot flashes during sleep (night sweats)

  • Mood swings

  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep (insomnia)

  • Vaginal dryness

  • Low sex drive

  • Vagina pain during sex                                                           

Managing your symptoms 

Try these strategies:

  • Hot flashes. Wear layers of clothes that are easy to remove. Wear all-cotton clothing.

  • Night sweats. Use all-cotton sheets and blankets you can remove easily. Keep a glass of water and a small fan by your bed.

  • Vagina pain during sex. Use a water-based lubricant or vaginal moisturizer.

  • Mood swings. Try relaxation therapy, acupuncture, or talking with a cognitive behavioral therapist to help manage mood changes.

  • Low sex drive. Talk with your partner about other ways to be intimate when you’re not feeling your best.

  • Insomnia. Ask your healthcare provider about medicine that may help you get more sleep. 

Staying healthy after menopause 

Menopause can cause some problems with a woman’s health, such as:

  • Bone loss. After menopause, bones can start to thin. This increases your risk for bone breaks.

  • Weight gain. It’s easier to gain weight after menopause. This is because of the changes in hormone levels.

  • Heart disease. Women who have gone through menopause have a higher risk for heart disease. This includes problems such as high blood pressure and heart attack. 

You can help yourself stay healthy by:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Healthy foods can help you manage your weight, lower your risk for heart disease, and boost your mood.

  • Getting regular physical activity. Include plenty of weight-bearing activity, such as walking or running. Weight-bearing exercise can help keep bones stronger and help prevent breaks. Exercise can also help you control your weight.

  • Asking about supplements. Talk with your healthcare provider about calcium and vitamin D supplements. These can help prevent bone loss.

  • Not smoking. Smoking raises your risk for heart disease. And it’s not good for bone health.

  • Getting regular tests and exams. Get colon tests, pelvic exams, Pap tests, and mammograms as often as your healthcare provider advises. 

About hormone therapy 

Hormone therapy helps symptoms of menopause. It’s done with medicines that have estrogen and progesterone. But women who have had cancer may not be able to use hormone therapy. This is because it may raise your risk of cancer coming back. Using bioidentical hormones from plant sources may also have this risk. Talk with your healthcare provider about hormone therapy. He or she will tell you if it’s not safe for you. 

Working with your healthcare provider 

Your gynecologist can help you manage the symptoms of menopause. If symptoms are very bad and affect your day-to-day life, you may take prescription medicines that can help. 

Some herbs and supplements may also help reduce menopause symptoms. But don’t take any of these without talking with your healthcare provider first. 

Tell him or her about your symptoms, and work together to feel better.