Welcome to “Your New Normal.” Today we’re going to talk about managing the side effects of menopause after cancer.
Menopause can be a side effect of cancer treatment. In this post, I’m going to talk about what menopause is and how you can cope with the discomforts that come along with its symptoms.
What is Menopause?
You’ve heard about menopause – also known as “The Change” – but do you really know what it is? Basically, menopause takes place when the ovaries stop releasing an egg every month and menstruation stops. A woman’s eggs are stored in her ovaries, which also produce estrogen and progesterone, and control the menstruation process. When a woman has not had her period for a full year, she is considered to be in menopause.
Symptoms of menopause include irregular periods, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, loss of interest in sex, fatigue and sleep problems.
Menopause can also lead to a decrease in bone density, a slower metabolism and a higher risk for heart disease.
When Does Menopause Happen?
Many women do not notice symptoms of menopause until after age 40 or later. Most women are in menopause by their early to mid-fifties. However, with a cancer diagnosis can come early menopause. Treatments such as chemotherapy, hormonal blockade and certain surgeries (like a hysterectomy) can push a woman into menopause earlier than expected, especially when women in their 20s or 30s are diagnosed.
Younger cancer patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and hope to have children should talk with their doctor about freezing their eggs before beginning treatment that could damage their eggs.
So you’re experiencing symptoms of early menopause or menopause. How can you make this time more comfortable?
One symptom that many women complain about is hot flashes! These bursts of body heat can be pretty uncomfortable. Consider dressing in layers so you can remove a layer or two when a hot flash strikes. Keep a fan in rooms of your home where you spend a lot of time, or if you’re out and about, purchase a small, handheld fan you can keep in your bag and use when needed. If your hot flashes come at night, you might want to get some sheets and pajamas that are moisture wicking.
Caffeine and alcohol can trigger hot flashes in menopausal women, so it’s best to avoid them if you can. Some studies also suggest that spicy foods can impact hot flashes. Eating a well-rounded diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, dairy and whole grains has also been shown to help minimize some symptoms.
Taking antidepressants and getting acupuncture treatment can also help minimize hot flashes. Talk to your physician about these options.
Urinary incontinence is another symptom of menopause. Kegel exercises are helpful in helping to combat this. Also, avoid drinking beverages with caffeine or alcohol, which can irritate the lining of the bladder.
Sexual Discomfort or Desire
Many women in menopause note discomfort from sex, which can also lead to decreased desire. However, it’s important to maintain a connection with your partner. Water soluble vaginal lubricants can help.
Keeping a normal sleep schedule can help. Make sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day – even on the weekends. Make time to relax before bed with a book, bath or a cup of decaffeinated tea. Keep your bedroom at a cool temperature with minimal lighting.
Menopause can be an unwelcome change for women. It is my hope that these tips will help make this time a little more manageable. Make sure to talk to your doctor with any questions or concerns you may have.
More “Your New Normal”
Missed a blog post in my “Your New Normal” series? Click the links below to read other posts!
- Don’t let cancer define you
- Managing fatigue
- Pain management
- Cancer survivorship
- Chemo Brain
Dr. Halaharvi is a board-certified general surgeon with over six years of experience. She completed the Breast Surgery Fellowship at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center and provides a surgical practice focused on breast care and breast surgery.
Dr. Halaharvi’s interests include teaching, involvement in clinical breast disease research and community outreach activities. She can speak 4 languages which include: English, Hindi, Urdu & Telugu.