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Cancer And Menopause

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

Menopause after cancer

Cancer is the gift that keeps on giving and something I've been left with after my treatment is with me for the long term..... menopause. But not just any menopause, we're talking surgical menopause, so it was instant and following further testing on my tumours I'm now not able to use HRT to manage the symptoms.

Of course I'm not alone, many women who have undergone cancer treatment are at a higher risk of experiencing early menopause due to medical interventions like surgery or chemotherapy. And let's face it, dealing with cancer is hard enough without also having to navigate the confusing and often frustrating world of menopause.

So let's start with the basics. Surgical menopause occurs when ovaries are removed surgically. This can happen due to a hysterectomy, which involves the removal of the uterus and possibly the ovaries as well (the removal of ovaries alone is called an oophorectomy). When the ovaries are removed, the body loses its primary source of estrogen, causing menopause symptoms to appear. Chemotherapy, on the other hand, can damage the ovaries, leading to early menopause.

And let me tell you, the symptoms of early menopause sound pretty scary. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and vaginal dryness are just a few of the common symptoms that women experience. These symptoms can be distressing and affect your quality of life. But it's not just about the symptoms that occur at the time of early menopause. There are also long-term effects of being in menopause early, including an increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Women who undergo early menopause may also have a higher risk of cognitive decline and depression.

So far I have been lucky and the symptoms have been frustrating & occasionally painful but manageable through trial and error of supplements, pain management and exercise.

So what can we do to manage these symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term effects? Well, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a popular option and involves taking estrogen and progesterone to replace the hormones lost during menopause. HRT can alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, but it may not be suitable for women who have had breast cancer or ovarian cancer. If you have kept your uterus but not ovaries you will need to include progesterone in your treatment whereas if you have no uterus estrogen alone will help manage your symptoms. For women who cannot take HRT (that would be me), there are natural remedies available that can help manage symptoms. These remedies include exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. Some women also find relief from natural supplements such as black cohosh, soy, and flaxseed. Due to my tumour being estrogen receptor positive I was taken off HRT. The next day I panic bought various menopause supplements to navigate what I thought was going to hit me. I didn't actually find these made much difference to how I was feeling but through trial and error I found some ways to manage the side effects.

My most severe symptom has been joint aches and pains and pretty bad Achilles tendinopathy About 2 weeks after stopping the HRT I found that EVERYTHING in my body ached; elbows, legs, arms, neck etc. I felt like an 80 year old when I woke up in the morning and hobbled my way to make a cup of tea. I was short tempered and cranky as I was in constant pain. Luckily for both myself and my partner I happened upon a naturopath at my local market who recommended high dose tumeric, within two days I was feeling like a totally different person. That was 3 months ago and most aches and pains have now eased - except the achilles tendinopathy. I still take high dose tumeric and magnesium daily and have found exercise to be one of the most effective treatments to manage the pain. pilates and yoga make the most noticeable difference.

I have also been prescribed Estradiol to ward off any vaginal dryness and have started taking collagen gummies and a prescription retinoid to attempt to slow down any menopause induced aging.

Osteoporosis is a real concern for me now so I'm also taking preventative action with the aim of keeping that at bay as long as possible:

  • I am aiming to include more foods in my diet that that support bone health and working with a dietitian with the aim of getting enough calcium, vitamin D, and protein each day.

  • I aim to keep active and where possible hoose weight-bearing exercise, such as strength training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, matt pilates or dancing.

  • I never smoked but if you do quitting will give your bones the best chance of staying healthy

  • I limit alcohol consumption, this is both to reduce my risk of a recurrence and to protect my bones.

But let's be real, managing menopause symptoms is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Every woman's experience is unique, and it's important to work with your doctor to determine the best course of action for your individual needs. And let's not forget about the emotional aspect of menopause. It can be tough dealing with the changes that come with menopause, especially when it's brought on early due to cancer treatment. It's important to have a support system in place, whether that's friends, family, or a therapist.

So ladies, if you're dealing with surgical menopause or menopause brought on by cancer treatment, know that you're not alone. It can be tough, but there are treatments available to help manage symptoms and reduce the risk of long-term effects. And remember, it's okay to ask for help and to lean on your support system during this time. There are many support systems in place for cancer survivors so talk to your GP or local cancer organisation (listed below) to find out what is available to you.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this article you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or The Cancer Council on 13 11 20


Mental Health Support for Life After Cancer

These are the products that helped me exercise during treatment.

What the F*ck Just Happened?

A Survivor's Guide to Life After Breast Cancer

Click to purchase

The Cancer Survivor Handbook

Your Guide to Building a Life After Cancer

Click to purchase

Support Resources

Cancer Council Australia

CCA an organisation to support all Australians affected by cancer through support, research and prevention programs.

Ovarian Cancer Australia

OCA is an independent national not-for-profit organisation, supporting women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our focus is to provide care and support for those affected by ovarian cancer; and represent them by leading change. Our vision is to save lives and ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.

Breast Cancer Network Australia

BCNA Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is Australia’s leading breast cancer consumer organisation. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that all Australians who are affected by breast cancer receive the very best care, treatment and support.

Bowel Cancer Australia

BCA Peer-to-Peer Support Network connects patient’s and loved ones on a one-to-one buddy basis that enables members to give and receive advice about their bowel cancer experience in an informal and mutually beneficial way.

Leukaemia Foundation

LF is a support service for patients and supporters dealing with blood cancers.

*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.

*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.

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