How do menopause and breast cancer treatments relate?
Breast cancer and menopause have a complicated relationship. This article from the American Cancer Society manages to sum it up pretty well:
The known link between estrogen levels and breast cancer growth has discouraged many women and their doctors from choosing or recommending post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT), also called hormone replacement therapy (HRT), to help relieve menopausal symptoms.
Unfortunately, many women experience menopausal symptoms after treatment for breast cancer. This can happen naturally, as a result of post-menopausal women stopping PHT, or in pre-menopausal women as a result of chemotherapy or ovarian ablation. Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors can also cause menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes.
The cycle is complicated further by the fact that when menopause symptoms start after a woman has already had breast cancer, offering HRT can actually increase the risk of the cancer coming back. This can make menopause a nightmare for women who, after surviving cancer, now have to deal with hot flashes, sweating, and the loss of fertility.
But let’s back up for a moment and talk about younger women who go into early menopause as a result of breast cancer treatment. The website “Living Beyond Breast Cancer” discusses the possibilities:
If you had regular periods before chemotherapy, they may return afterward. The younger you are during treatment, the more likely your periods will return.
Talk with your doctor if your period returns after you have missed three or more cycles.
You are in early menopause if your periods end due to treatment that began when you were still premenopausal.
Doctors sometimes call this premature menopause if it occurs at age 40 or younger.
If your periods stop temporarily or permanently, know that you are not alone. Many young women who are treated for breast cancer experience the same thing.
If you or someone you love finds themselves in this situation, first and foremost, don’t do it alone. In addition to getting the best medical care possible, make sure they are getting professional psychological help. Build a strong support group of friends and family, and others going through the same thing. If it’s a loved one or a friend going through it, make sure they know that you are there for them, no matter what—for whatever they need. Let them guide you when it comes to how much help and support they want, because everyone is different.
For more information about breast cancer, visit the Susan G. Komen website.