The menopause is a natural process which happens to women as we get older. It usually occurs as a woman reaches her early 50’s, although can happen earlier, and it can cause physical and psychological symptoms. These can be heightened when the menopause is caused by treatment (treatment-induced), as happens with some types of chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy and hormone therapy. This particularly (but not exclusively) can affect women with gynaecological and breast cancer.
The menopause is triggered by reduced levels of oestrogen and progesterone hormones produced by the ovaries. Periods become irregular, and as oestrogen levels fall, they stop completely. Menopausal symptoms after treatment for cancer sometimes can have a long-lasting effect on your quality of life, body image, sexual function, and self esteem. Physical symptoms may include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, weight gain, vaginal dryness or itching, poor memory, and frequent urine tract infections.
Not everyone realises that sometimes you can experience psychological symptoms, such as panic attacks, depression, anxiety and mood swings. These symptoms may be part of the menopause, so it's good to report the symptoms to your GP and hospital team. Hospital cancer teams and specialist nurses are aware of the impact of the menopause, and encourage reporting of the symptoms so reassurance and help can be given.
Some cancer treatments can cause a temporary or permanent premature menopause, which can be distressing for women who are of child bearing age, as it can cause infertility.
If you have been affected by cancer in some way and would like to talk to someone about what you have read or need help finding information - you are welcome to drop into any Maggie’s Centre or to visit Maggie’s Online Centre and talk with a cancer support specialist.