Breast Cancer Treatment-Induced Early Menopause
For some young women, breast cancer may bring on menopause or menopause-like symptoms earlier than expected due to treatments like chemotherapy, ovarian suppression and/or hormonal therapies. Many young women have been down this road and have found ways to cope with early menopause— you can do it, too.
Symptoms of Menopause
Symptoms of early menopause may include:
- Hot flashes. Hot flashes are often worse at night and can affect sleep or cause mood changes.
- Irregular periods. One of the first signs of early menopause is a change in your periods. They may become less regular. They could be lighter. Some women have short times of heavy bleeding. Sometimes, they stop all of a sudden. Over time, some young women will get regular periods again, but others may not.
- Vaginal dryness or discomfort. Vaginal tissue may become drier and thinner. This dryness can cause painful intercourse. You may also be more likely to get vaginal infections.
- Lack of interest in sex. Hormonal changes could make it hard for you to become sexually aroused.
- Fatigue and sleep problems. It’s normal to feel tired or have trouble getting to sleep, getting up early or getting back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night.
- Memory and other problems, such as depression, mood swings and irritability. Some of these, especially memory problems, may occur regardless of a cancer diagnosis as we grow older. Changes in your hormone levels can partly explain emotional changes.
- Other changes in your body. You may notice your waist gets bigger, less muscle and more fat around your body or thinning and loss of elasticity of your skin.
- Loss of fertility. There are still options for building your family after menopause. Explore options like surrogacy and adoption.
Managing Menopause Symptoms
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms of menopause, talk to your oncologist or gynecologist about medicines, supplements or other methods to help you control your symptoms. Make sure you speak to your healthcare team about possible effects on heart and bone health.
Take advantage of our other resources to help you cope with early menopause and support your physical and mental well-being:
Coping with Hot Flashes
One particularly frustrating symptom of early menopause is the onset of hot flashes. Here are some tips to help you manage hot flashes:
- Keep a little notebook to log when they occur. This detective work can help you make changes to prevent or lessen your hot flashes. Some attribute an increase in flashes to caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods or the timing of taking certain medication such as hormone therapy.
- Drink plenty of water and water-based fluids.
- Don’t smoke.
- Exercise and practice proper nutrition to keep yourself at a healthy weight.
- Dress in layers you can easily take off and put on.
- Use cotton sheets and PJs, which may make your nights a little cooler.
If your hot flashes are severe or disrupting your daily living, make your doctor aware. It is possible that some prescribed medication can also relieve your discomfort.