Written by Dani Binnington, Founder of Menopause & Cancer
The menopause conversation is really shifting – we’re all talking about it a lot more and most of us have a much better understanding of the benefits of HRT, along with lifestyle steps that can help manage symptoms.
But there’s something that isn’t so widely discussed – and that’s menopause after cancer. It’s a totally different ballgame and people in the cancer community often feel excluded from the wider menopause conversation. That can leave women feeling even more isolated, confused and scared at what is already a deeply challenging time.
Doctors will often tell you HRT isn’t an option, depending on the kind of cancer you had, so you’re left on your own, dealing with a double-whammy of menopause symptoms and the trauma, loneliness and anxiety that can follow cancer treatment. Menopause after cancer really is the hidden menopause.
Our Menopause and Cancer not-for-profit organisation supports everyone who is in menopause after cancer - so that we can all have a better survivorship experience.
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Here are the key reasons menopause after cancer is so different.
You have sudden and severe menopause symptoms
Going through menopause due to cancer treatment often means it happens very suddenly and symptoms can be more severe. Us cancer survivors don’t get the gradual hormone changes that cause perimenopausal symptoms over the course of a few years – it’s more that our bodies have quit hormones cold turkey, plunging us into menopause suddenly and intensely. And it can be very scary sitting at home on your own after cancer treatment’s finished, wondering whether these symptoms are down to menopause, side effects of treatment or even cancer itself. On top of all that, menopausal hormone changes can often trigger low mood and anxiety – which can make everything that much harder to cope with when you’re already feeling low after everything you’ve been through.
You may have to cope with fertility loss
If you’re under 45 and still having periods, cancer treatment can bring on an early menopause - so you end up going through it long before 51, the average age a woman’s periods stop. This leaves you having to cope with the premature loss of your fertility after gruelling cancer treatment, which can be especially painful if you wanted children and haven’t had them. Even if you don’t want children or you’ve completed your family, losing your fertility early can still be very confronting.
You have to come off your HRT
Perhaps you’d already been through menopause and were coasting along quite happily on HRT. But then you got the cancer diagnosis and had to stop it abruptly, so you’re suddenly dealing with symptoms you were managing well before.
Women often put up with menopause symptoms after cancer. Lots of us tell ourselves we shouldn’t complain – we’ve survived a life-threatening illness so low libido, hot flushes and insomnia aren’t the end of the world. We’re lucky to be alive – we shouldn’t be moaning. Even if you want to seek help, who do you speak to? It can be difficult to navigate the health system and know whether you should be talking to your oncologist, nurse or GP. And you may well think there’s no point anyway – you can’t have HRT and nothing can be done so you’ll just have to put up with it.