Receiving a cancer diagnosis is one of those life-changing events you can’t really understand until it happens to you. When it does, you’re probably faced with many treatment options, including chemotherapy. But you might not realize these treatments, while life-saving, can cause other medical issues that may affect your physical, emotional, and psychological health. For many women, irregular periods or menopause from chemo is a real possibility, bringing with it some unpleasant side effects.
If you have any questions or concerns about your treatment, a conversation with your doctor is the best first step in exploring solutions. And keep in mind that some menopause symptoms can be managed with innovative medical treatments designed to help you feel like yourself again.
Chemotherapy and Early Menopause
Chemotherapy uses specific drugs to systematically kill or damage cancer cells. Your doctor may recommend chemo depending on the type of cancer you have, whether it has metastasized (or spread) to other locations in your body, and your overall health.
Like other cancer treatments, chemo can cause significant side effects because the drugs used in treatment kill healthy, normal cells in addition to cancer cells. For women, chemotherapy may damage healthy tissues within their ovaries. This, in turn, causes the ovaries to produce less of the female reproductive hormones, including estrogen, according to the National Cancer Institute.
As a result of your ovaries producing less estrogen, you may be more likely to experience early menopause from chemo. Menopause is characterized by the end of your menstrual cycles and is usually experienced by women over 50.
Early Menopause Symptoms
Because chemotherapy may cause your ovaries to stop making estrogen, you could experience many of the same symptoms as women who experience menopause naturally. Your symptoms may include:
- Hot flashes
- Mood changes
- Difficulty sleeping
- Uncomfortable intimacy
- Decreased passion
Your symptoms may also range from mild to severe. When it’s premature, it could be temporary or permanent, according to the nonprofit Breastcancer.org.
Managing Early Menopause
Going through menopause at any age can be upsetting, but you may be especially worried about your chemo treatments causing it sooner than expected. Fortunately, you can help manage the symptoms of early menopause by following your doctor’s treatment recommendations and maintaining the best health possible.
It’s important to stay active and eat a healthy diet, both for menopause symptom management and for boosting your body’s ability to fight cancer. For some of the psychological symptoms of both cancer and menopause, such as depression and anxiety, relaxation techniques (meditation, massage, or deep breathing exercises, for example) can help calm and soothe you. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe certain medications, such as sleep aids, to help you achieve a restful night’s sleep.
For some women, the symptoms of menopause stick around long after their course of chemotherapy has ended. You may experience persistent and unpleasant symptoms that make intimacy difficult. After your cancer care is completed, your doctor may recommend treatment with an innovative new therapy called MonaLisa Touch®. This treatment helps women who are having intimacy issues and want to feel like themselves again.
Undergoing chemotherapy can be daunting, and it may bring on other challenges you never expected. But with the help of your treatment team, you can develop an effective plan for keeping yourself as healthy as possible while dealing with any menopause symptoms you experience as a result of your chemo.