What is menopause?

Menopause is the time in your life when your menstrual periods stop and you are no longer fertile. If you have not had a period for at least a year (and it’s not due to an underlying health issue), then you are generally considered to be postmenopausal.

Menopause usually happens when you are around 51-53 years old. However, many women experience the symptoms of menopause in their 40s or early 50s, as their ovaries naturally stop making hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. The term perimenopause is often used to describe the time leading up to menopause.

Menopausal symptoms develop gradually. For some women they may be challenging, while for others the symptoms may be hardly noticeable.

How does breast cancer affect menopause?

Menopause is a normal part of aging, however breast cancer treatment can bring on menopause prematurely. Treatments that can cause early menopause are:

  • Surgical removal of ovaries – this causes an abrupt and permanent menopause
  • Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists – these drugs cause the ovaries to stop producing estrogen and cause an abrupt but temporary menopause. Zoladex is a common LHRH agonist that may be given to young premenopausal women with estrogen-positive breast cancer. The ovaries will start producing estrogen again once treatment ends
  • Chemotherapy – certain types of chemotherapy can cause temporary or permanent menopause. The closer in age you are to your natural menopause, the more likely it is to be permanent

What are the symptoms of menopause?

The symptoms of menopause vary from woman to woman. You may experience some of these or none at all.

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Bone loss
  • Decreased sex drive (libido)

Menopausal symptoms can often be managed effectively with medications and lifestyle changes, so it is important to tell your doctor about any symptoms that bother you.

Links to more information

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Managing Menopausal Symptoms

Managing Menopause
Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Menopausal Symptoms and Breast Cancer
Breast Cancer Care UK\

Breast Cancer Treatment and Menopausal Symptoms
Macmillan Cancer Support

Breast Cancer and Menopausal Symptoms
Cancer Help UK

Breast Cancer and Early Menopause – A Guide for Younger Women
National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre