Menopause is the time in a woman’s life when hormone production levels drop to a point where she stops getting her period (menstruating). Some treatments for breast cancer can cause treatment-induced menopause. Depending on your age and specific situation, treatment-induced menopause can be permanent, or your hormone levels and monthly cycles can return after treatment is done. Other breast cancer treatment side effects can mimic menopausal symptoms but don't actually cause menopause.
Symptoms of menopause include:
- hot flashes
- mood swings
- memory loss
- weight changes
- vaginal dryness
- loss of libido
- trouble sleeping
Menopause or menopausal symptoms can be caused by the following breast cancer treatments:
- ovarian shutdown or removal
- hormonal therapy:
Managing menopause and menopausal symptoms
It's important to remember that menopause can affect your long-term health, specifically your heart and bone health. Read more about how to avoid heart problems and how to reduce your risk of osteoporosis (bone loss).
Try the following to ease various menopausal symptoms:
- Place an ice pack on the painful area of your head if you're having headaches. Apply the pack to your forehead, temples, back of the neck, or wherever else it may hurt. Read more tips on how to manage headaches.
- Dress in layers if you’re suffering from hot flashes. This way you can peel off one layer after another as you get warmer. Read more tips on managing hot flashes.
- Identify and avoid sources of stress that cause mood swings. Read more tips on managing mood swings.
- Participate in activities that make you feel happy or relaxed to combat depression. Going to a movie, a sporting event, playing music, painting, or volunteering to help others can take your mind off your troubles. Read more tips on easing depression.
- Go to bed at the same time each night if you’re experiencing fatigue. Get up at the same time each morning and don't stay in bed after you wake up. Read more tips on managing fatigue.
- Keep your mind and memory active with word puzzles, reading, and any other activity that makes you think. Read more tips on managing memory loss.
- Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight. Load up on fruits, vegetables, beans, omega-3 fatty acids (found in coldwater fish, such as salmon, and olive oil), and calcium. Try to eat smaller portions to avoid over-eating. Read more tips on managing weight changes.
- Use personal lubricants that are water-based to make penetration less uncomfortable if you’re experiencing vaginal dryness. Read more tips on managing vaginal dryness.
- Discuss any changes in sex drive with your partner if you’re experiencing a loss of libido. Share what you're feeling so your partner doesn't feel at fault. Read more tips on managing loss of libido.
- Ask your doctor if sleeping pills might be a good idea if you’re having trouble sleeping. Some people prefer to use acetaminophen (one brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (one brand name: Advil) to help them get to sleep. Read more tips on managing sleep problems.
- Exercise regularly to help manage stress and maintain a healthy weight. Exercise also can help strengthen your bones and heart, reduce hot flashes, improve sleep quality, boost your energy, and enhance your libido.
- Consider complementary and holistic medicine techniques such as meditation or yoga.
Discuss the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with your doctor. Menopausal side effects can dramatically reduce the quality of life for some women. If you're having severe side effects from menopause, HRT may be able to help. Still, it's important to remember that research has shown that HRT can increase breast cancer risk, as well as the risk of heart attack and stroke. If you're having severe hot flashes or other menopausal side effects and are considering taking HRT, talk to your doctor about:
- How to minimize your breast cancer risk: Research shows that taking combination HRT for fewer than 3 years doesn't significantly increase breast cancer risk.
- The pros and cons of different types of HRT: Estrogen-only HRT appears to increase breast cancer risk less than combination HRT.
- A plan so you take HRT for the shortest time possible.
For more tips, ask the members of the Breastcancer.org Discussion Boards for advice.