Section 5: Premature Menopause and Breast Cancer

HIGHLIGHTS

  • This section provides you with information to help you understand what happens at menopause, why young women in treatment for breast cancer may go through premature menopause, and how to deal with the impact of menopause on your body.

  • Menopause is a time in a woman's life when her periods (menstruation) stop and her body goes through changes that no longer allow her to get pregnant.

  • Women treated for breast cancer at a young age may go through premature menopause when cancer treatment affects the ovaries. Menopause happens when the ovaries stop making hormones.

  • Depending on a woman’s type of breast cancer treatment, and how much her ovaries are damaged, the menopause for young breast cancer survivors may only last several months or it may be permanent.

  • Typically, a woman in menopause will not be able to get pregnant. Other common problems for women in menopause include hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and loss of bone strength.

  • If you are having problems related to menopause, ask your doctors for help. There are many different types of healthcare professionals including internists, gynecologists, and nurse practitioners who can help you. You do not have to suffer in silence!

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SUMMARY

WHAT IS MENOPAUSE?

Menopause is a time in a woman's life when her ovaries stop making the “female” hormones – estrogen and progesterone. When a woman's ovaries stop working, her menstrual periods also stop. Usually, this is a sign that she can no longer get pregnant.. The average age of natural menopause in the United States is about 51, but women treated for breast cancer at a young age may go through a premature menopause caused by their cancer treatment.

PREMATURE MENOPAUSE CAUSED BY BREAST CANCER TREATMENT

Young women can sometimes develop a premature menopause as a result of certain cancer treatments that damage their ovaries. Premature menopause means that a woman’s periods stop at age 40 or younger. The medical name for this is premature ovarian failure.

The following cancer treatments can lead to sudden, premature menopause:

  • Chemotherapy damages the ovaries

  • Some women with breast cancer also get a second ovarian or uterine cancer later on and need high dose radiation treatments

  • Both ovaries are taken out during surgery

  • A women is put on a hormone treatment that temporarily shuts down her ovaries

FINDING MEDICAL HELP FOR MENOPAUSE PROBLEMS

You may find yourself holding back from asking your doctors about symptoms of menopause. Even though menopause symptoms can really affect your life after breast cancer, you may worry that your doctor will see you as a “complainer” if you mention problems with hot flashes or lack of energy. The sudden misery of a bladder infection or a yeast infection create a minor crisis, so you have to get some help, but vaginal dryness may remain a painful secret that seems too private to discuss. Although menopause is a normal part of being a woman, the problems it can bring are real, and you have a right to get help for them.


Click here for more in-depth information on Hot Flashes, Vaginal Dryness, and Keeping Your Bones Strong.


Section 5: Premature Menopause and Breast Cancer

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