Menopause is a part of every woman’s life. It occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs and her body reduces the amount of oestrogen and progesterone hormone it produces.
During natural menopause, this reduction in hormone production leads to irregular menstrual periods that eventually stop. Typically, menopause starts around age 50. However, for women with cancer menopause may begin earlier induced by treatments.
A reason for this is that some treatments cause the ovaries to stop working. This is called premature menopause. Chemotherapy is more likely to cause permanent menopause if you are close to your natural menopause. Pelvic radiotherapy or having your ovaries removed causes a permanent menopause.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes and sweats
- Night sweats
- Weight gain
- Decreased sex drive/ Libido
- Painful sex or bleeding after sex
- Mood swings and irritability
- Sleeping problems, also called insomnia
- Loss of concentration
- Dry hair, nails and vagina
Menopause and cancer risk
While menopause is inevitable, two of the major factors that link those going through it to cancer is:
- Increased exposure to hormones, such as oestrogen (HRT medication)
- Increased number of ovulations
Ovulation occurs when the ovary releases eggs. Women who get their period at an earlier age, or go through a late menopause, and therefore stop ovulating at a later stage are at an increased risk of developing uterine, breast, and ovarian cancers. Research shows that they can lower ovarian cancer risk by taking the oral contraception pill. This is because these medications often stop ovulation temporarily. Talk with your doctor about your risk of cancer. Ask about the risks and benefits of oral contraceptives.
Psychological effects of menopause:
Dealing with change in your body is never easy, but when these changes occur earlier than you anticipated, if can be very stressful. The psychological effects of menopausal symptoms can be hard to cope with when you already have to deal with cancer.
These effects can include mood swings, a lack of confidence, and a loss of concentration and memory. At times you may feel very emotional or anxious.
Ways to work through your emotions:
- Many women find it helpful to talk through their feelings and what they’re experiencing. Whether that be with a doctor, nurse, partner or friend.
- Some may find counselling helpful. Your doctor or nurse can give you more advice on who you should speak to about seeking counselling for early menopause.
- Like most things, regular physical activity such as swimming or running or yoga may help to improve mood symptoms.