From Christine Verini’s desk
Menopause is a traditional indicator of midlife, a natural process that most women experience in their fifties. Some women embrace menopause and the end of their reproductive years and menstrual bleeding, while others struggle with the mental and physical symptoms that can come with this stage.
Menopause can occur even earlier in women who are dealing with cancer. Some cancer treatments can stop the ovaries from working or have them removed and start menopause early. This can be very difficult for women for several reasons.
First, hot flashes and night sweats are another part of their daily reality for women who are already undergoing a cancer diagnosis and treatment. These menopausal symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to intense and debilitating. Research also shows that younger women have more intense menopausal symptoms than older women, resulting in many younger cancer patients struggling with the side effects of cancer treatment along with hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and psychological changes.
Although symptoms are usually gradual in women during natural menopause, symptoms may occur immediately in women who have had menopausal cancer due to menopause. In fact, women I spoke to have reported that they will get hot flashes when they come home after surgery.
Another problem that occurs in women of childbearing age is children. They may not have had biological children yet, or if they do have children, they may want the option of expanding their families. If their treatment has resulted in menopause – be it medical or surgical removal of the ovaries – they may be denied the option of having biological children.
They have to face this new reality that they are not prepared for – along with dealing with the mental struggles that come with being diagnosed and treated for cancer. Losing the ability to bear children after developing cancer can feel extraordinarily cruel.
After all, women with cancer already feel alone on their journey. Your friends get on with their lives while they’re busy doing scans and blood tests, scheduling pre-op appointments and surgeries, giving weekly fluids or taking daily pills, all while keeping their children’s schedules and worrying about their own work Keep up to date on whether it’s housework, office work, or both. And now they are experiencing something their friends may have 10 to 20 years to tackle – menopausal problems.
At HealthyWomen, we want to help you understand the importance of these changes and to support you in your discussions with your doctor. Whether you’ve gone through menopause or are starting cancer treatment and are concerned about entering early menopause, it can be helpful to have all the information you need so that you can work with your doctor to make informed decisions.
Here are some key facts to help you navigate early menopause:
- Hormone therapy is an option for menopausal symptoms and can have significant benefits for younger women. Estrogen and progesterone protect against diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease and cognitive abilities. A sudden loss of these hormones due to cancer treatment can cause these conditions to develop in younger women. Find a North American Menopause Society certified doctor to determine if you are a good candidate for hormone therapy and consult with your oncologist to make sure hormone therapy is right for you.
- If you want to discuss ways to maintain your fertility before starting cancer treatment, see your doctor and find an oncofertility specialist who works with cancer patients who are hoping to conceive.
- Don’t hesitate to see a psychologist if you feel depressed or anxious. These are common perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
This does not mean that every woman will have negative feelings about this new phase of life. If you survive cancer and are alive to spend more time with family and friends, early menopause can feel like a minor hassle compared to other outcomes. Everyone will react differently and all answers should be respected and understood.
We all know that life doesn’t stop when a woman has cancer or goes through menopause. Treating the whole person at these stages can help more women lead full lives despite cancer. Although some women fear menopause, others find it to convey a sense of freedom and relief about the end of their reproductive years. Knowing how best to manage early menopause can make the passage easier.
To learn more about menopause and how to answer your questions, register for our upcoming “No Pause in Menopause Roundtable” virtual series, which will take place on Wednesdays from October.
With the support of Astellas