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Menopause And Cancer: How To Manage When You Have Both

13.10.2016

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Going through menopause can be tough for many women. But how do you cope if you’re experiencing menopause and are trying to manage a cancer diagnosis or treatment at the same time? As you can imagine, trying to manage your health, cancer and menopause simultaneously can be very difficult. However, there are many things that you can do to make this a little easier.

Cancer during menopause

Despite the fact that you may have already gone through menopause naturally before your diagnosis, you may find that during your treatment for cancer you experience some menopausal symptoms again or, if you’re still going through menopause, you may find that your symptoms intensify. Furthermore, if you have been taking HRT prior to your diagnosis, you may find that once you stop this therapy you may experience menopausal symptoms again.

The association between menopause and cancer

Many women find that their menopausal symptoms are brought on by their cancer treatment –
chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy may cause damage to your ovaries and put you into premature menopause, while certain hormone therapies such as Tamoxifen that are used to treat breast cancer can cause symptoms normally associated with menopause.

Not all cancer treatments will cause menopause

While you may be experiencing menopausal symptoms, for some women these will only be temporary. You may find that your period stops and your symptoms appear overnight, while other women may find that they have a gradual build-up of symptoms over time. Unfortunately however, there’s no way to predict how menopause will affect each individual, and it can be quite difficult to distinguish between the normal menopausal symptoms and those which are made worse due to the cancer.

Some of the typical symptoms you may experience

Many women with breast cancer find that they develop more frequent and severe hot flushes than women without cancer. They may also suffer from increased insomnia. Vaginal dryness and urinary tract infections are also common. Furthermore, many cancer sufferers report increased depression and anxiety, which are directly related to factors such as the stage of the cancer, the success rate of the treatment, the level of support they are getting, and how well an individual copes with their personal diagnosis.

Managing and treating your menopausal symptoms

There are a number of options when it comes to managing your menopausal symptoms. These include:

  • Changes to your lifestyle to help reduce any depression or anxiety, and to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
  • Psychological support from trained counsellors.
  • Various medications to help with menopausal symptoms.
  • Natural therapies are also worth considering.

Making changes to your lifestyle

Ensuring that you have a healthy diet is more important than ever if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, and eating a variety of fresh foods can also help you to cope with the symptoms associated with menopause. While it may be difficult to stick to a healthy eating plan when you’re feeling tired, moody and depressed, you’ll find it beneficial to eat a range of whole foods, including protein, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables.

Physical activity can also help to reduce stress and make it easier to cope with daily life. Aim for up to 30 minutes per day, preferably in the fresh air if you can manage it, and don’t forget to schedule time for some naps.

Looking after your mental and emotional health

There’s no doubt that receiving a cancer diagnosis, having to manage the necessary treatment and dealing with menopausal symptoms can be an overwhelming experience for any woman. Therefore, finding ways to manage and maintain your emotional well-being should be high on your list of coping strategies.

Relaxation techniques

One way to help ease the stress and anxiety surrounding your condition is to learn some relaxation techniques. You may also wish to explore cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and mindfulness to teach you strategies for handling the stresses of your daily life. Some women have found that both CBT and mindfulness techniques have also proved useful for helping to minimise the hot flushes experienced during menopause.

Natural and complementary therapies

If you’ve been diagnosed with a hormone dependent cancer, it’s highly likely that you won’t be able to take synthetic HRT. However, before you make the decision to use natural or complementary therapies as a way to control your menopausal symptoms, you should always consult your doctor. The team of naturopaths and doctors at the Australian Menopause Centre do not shy away from the treatment of women who have been treated for breast cancer, in fact they can offer solutions that may be beneficial at reducing the symptoms.

Antidepressants

Some women may find that antidepressants will prove useful for helping to reduce hot flushes. However, some antidepressants can interfere with existing cancer treatments. Your doctor will be able to advise you further.

Finally, don’t try to do it alone

Remember that there’s plenty of assistance out there to help you through this difficult time. Your first port of call should always be your doctor, who will be able to talk through your worries and refer you for any professional help you may need or recommend appropriate support groups.

Managing menopause and cancer can be overwhelming at times, but we hope that you employ a barrage of the above techniques to help you overcome some of the physical and emotional hurdles. Maintaining a positive outlook and a good strength of character is your first action, so do be kind to yourself during this trying time.