The symptoms of menopause and their severity can vary widely from woman to woman. Every woman thinks about menopause a little bit differently, too. Some women welcome the end of monthly periods and never having to worry about birth control again. Or you might experience a sense of loss over the fact that you’re no longer fertile or you feel less youthful. Some younger women say they find it difficult to think of themselves as “menopausal” when it happens as a result of breast cancer treatments instead of naturally.
If you’re already in middle age and going through menopause, dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis on top of that can be challenging in its own right. At this stage of life, you may be raising preteen or teenaged kids and/or taking care of aging parents. Add a spouse, job, a social life, and other obligations and you’re pretty much maxed out! Feeling not “like yourself” because of menopausal symptoms and breast cancer treatment side effects can stretch anyone to the limit.
As you approach menopause naturally, or are pushed into it by breast cancer treatments, your most immediate concern is usually the “in-your-face” symptoms: hot flashes, weight gain, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and loss of energy. Over the longer term, you’ll also want to take steps to protect yourself against osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and cardiovascular disease.
You may have only a few menopausal symptoms, or you may have every one in the book. Don’t feel rushed to make decisions about treating them—but if a particular symptom stands in the way of your normal activities, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about it.
No matter how you feel about menopause, there are things you can do to help your state of mind and the condition of your body. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and stress reduction are three of your most powerful tools.
In this section of Breastcancer.org, you can learn about the symptoms of menopause and steps you can take to improve them.
- Menopause Symptoms: Hot Flashes
- Menopause Symptoms: Vaginal Changes
- Menopause Symptoms: Irregular Periods
- Menopausal Weight Gain
- Menopausal Sleep Problems
- Menopausal Grieving, Depression, and Mood Changes
- Menopause Symptoms: Memory Problems
- Menopausal Skin Changes
- Menopausal Hair Changes
A Note About Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
If you've been diagnosed with breast cancer or have tested positive for an abnormal breast cancer gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2) and so are at high risk, you shouldn't use HRT to treat the symptoms of menopause. The hormones in HRT can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers to develop and grow. While only a few small studies have looked at HRT use in women with a personal history of breast cancer, the fact that HRT use increases breast cancer risk among women in general makes almost all doctors advise women with a past breast cancer to avoid HRT—whether that cancer was hormone-receptor-positive or negative. Not being able to use HRT can present a challenge for many women. If you're having severe hot flashes or other menopausal side effects and have a personal history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor. For more information, visit the Breastcancer.org section on Hormone Replacement Therapy.