Most women go through menopause as a natural part of the aging process, at about age 51 on average -- some sooner, some later. But if you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause, some treatments could bring on menopause earlier and more abruptly than expected.
Hormonal therapy medicines, such as tamoxifen and the aromatase inhibitors, also can cause or make menopausal symptoms worse. Hormonal therapy medicines are taken after surgery by women diagnosed with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence).
Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats can dramatically reduce quality of life for many women. Some women use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to ease these symptoms. But research has shown that HRT increases breast cancer risk in women who haven’t been diagnosed. HRT also increases the risk of recurrence in women who have been diagnosed with the disease. Women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer SHOULD NOT take HRT.
Researchers have reviewed published studies on ways women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer can safely manage menopausal symptoms and made recommendations, including quitting smoking and exercising regularly.
The study was published online on Aug. 2, 2017 by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Read the abstract of “Managing menopausal symptoms and associated clinical issues in breast cancer survivors.”
To develop the recommendations, the researchers reviewed clinical trials, observational studies, guidelines based on scientific evidence, and expert opinions from professional organizations.
To manage menopausal symptoms in women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, the study recommends:
- quitting smoking (if applicable)
- losing weight (if applicable)
- limiting or avoiding alcohol
- making sure a woman is getting the recommended amounts of vitamin D and calcium
- regular exercise
- eating a diet that is rich in unprocessed foods and vegetables and low in processed foods and foods with added sugar and fat
- cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture, vaginal lubricants, and vaginal moisturizers for vaginal dryness and atrophy
- antidepressants for hot flashes and night sweats
While not part of this study’s recommendations, an August 2017 study found that vaginal estrogen can help ease menopausal symptoms and doesn’t raise breast cancer risk.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and are having troubling menopausal symptoms, talk to your doctor about all of your options to ease them. Ask how you can minimize your risk of recurrence AND relieve your symptoms. Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of each treatment you’re considering.
You can learn more about ways to ease the side effects of menopause on the Breastcancer.org Managing Menopausal Symptoms pages.