Menopausal symptoms after cancer treatment
Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone treatment or surgery to remove the ovaries can cause menopausal symptoms or bring on an early menopause.
These symptoms normally affect women, but some hormone therapies can cause menopausal symptoms in men.
Symptoms can be severe to mild. Most menopausal symptoms will eventually pass, but it can take up to a couple of years for this to happen.
Coping with menopausal symptoms can sometimes be very difficult. As well as the effects on your body, you may find that your confidence and self-esteem suffer.
Common menopausal symptoms are:
- Hot flushes / night sweats
Hot flushes can vary from a mild sensation of warming to an extremely unpleasant feeling that affects the whole body and causes heavy sweating. Usually these flushes become less severe over time but for some women they can be longer lasing.
- Mood changes
Many women say changes in their feelings and moods can be very upsetting for them and those close to them. Feeling low, sad, angry, anxious and irritable, frustrated and depressed is not uncommon.
- Vaginal dryness
Low oestrogen levels can result in vaginal dryness and irritation. Sex may be uncomfortable if you have vaginal dryness.
- Lower sex drive
After cancer treatment you may have physical and emotional side-effects that can affect your desire for sex. For example, you may still be feeling tired, sad or unwell after the cancer treatment you have had or you may have other side-effects that affect your interest in sex.
Sometimes the way you feel about your body after cancer can make you feel less like having sex. These side-effects can impact on your sexuality in the months or even years after treatment.
Other menopausal symptoms:
Aches and pains
Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
What medical help is available for menopausal symptoms?
It is always a good idea to talk to your nurse specialist, GP or hospital doctor about any menopausal symptoms you may have. He or she may give you advice on ways you can change your lifestyle that may be helpful. For example, changes to your diet or taking regular exercise.
For some symptoms taking medication may help. For example, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help in some cases, although it is not suitable for everyone.
Medicines such as venlafaxine (Effexor®), gabapentin (Neurontin®) and clonidine may help with hot flushes. Bone-strengthening drugs are available that can help if bone-thinning is a problem for you.
How can I cope better with menopausal symptoms?
There are lots of ways of improving menopausal symptoms that do not involve taking medication. All women can adopt a healthy lifestyle such as not smoking, getting regular exercise and good nutrition. Plus there are things you can do to help specific symptoms such as hot flushes or vaginal dryness.
Regular exercise has many benefits – it can improve your mood, keep your weight down (which can reduce symptoms) and keep your bones healthy. For more advice on exercising after cancer see our section ‘Be physically active’.
Try relaxation techniques
Many women find that reducing stress can help make their symptoms less severe. Relaxation techniques like Tai chi, pilates or yoga may help.
Eat plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, especially dark leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, calcium and fibre.
Eat foods rich in calcium like milk and cheese and yogurt, which are good for your bone health. Vitamin D helps your body to absorb the calcium.
Sunlight helps your body make Vitamin D (so try and get some sun on your skin). Fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel, and egg yolks also have vitamin D.
Drink plenty of water to ensure good hydration and reduce body temperature.
Avoid salt, saturated fats, alcohol, coffee, cola and sugary foods as much as possible.
Try complementary therapies
Therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology, message, meditation, aromatherapy and homeopathic and herbal remedies can help relieve menopausal symptoms for some people.
Always discuss complementary therapies with your cancer specialist or GP before starting.
Our booklet Understanding cancer and complementary therapies has more information on lots of different treatments, such as aromatherapy, osteopathy and herbal supplements.
Tips for specific symptoms
Wear cotton clothing in layers so that you can put on or take off layers depending on how you feel
It may help to avoid certain foods and drinks such as spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol and hot drinks – try and keep a note of any food or drink that makes your flushes worse so that you can avoid them
Have cool drinks, avoid warm areas, use an electric fan
Use sprays or moist wipes, to help lower your skin temperature
Avoid hot baths or showers, as they may trigger a hot flush
Relaxation classes, yoga, meditation or similar activities
Be active , develop a daily exercise program that suits you and stick to it
Eat a healthy diet
Let those close to you know how you are feeling
If you find that you cannot cope with your mood changes, talk to you doctor. They may refer you to a counsellor or therapist who can help. You can also talk to a specialist nurse in confidence by calling our Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or by visiting a Daffodil Centre.
Wear loose-fitting cotton underwear and trousers
Try using vaginal moisturisers, such as Replens MD®, Senselle or Hyalofemme®, which are available from pharmacies
Use water-based lubricants such as K-Y® Jelly, Astroglide or Yes® if you are experiencing discomfort during sexual intercourse
Lower sex drive
Try to be open and talk to your partner about how you feel
Although it can be difficult, just talking about it to someone else may help. Talk to your GP or specialist if you are having sexual problems, as there are ways of helping you to deal with them, such as medical treatments and specialist sex therapy or counselling.
For more information, call our Cancer Nurseline or visit a Daffodil Centre.
Call our Cancer Nurseline
Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 6pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm.