Menopausal Symptoms in Women

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2016

Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs. Usually, this happens either naturally during a woman’s mid-40s to mid-50s. At that time, a woman’s body makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Fewer of these hormones causes irregular menstrual periods that eventually stop.

Menopause from cancer treatment

Some cancer treatments cause menopause, often at an earlier age than expected. These treatments include:

Symptoms of menopause

The symptoms and signs of menopause from cancer treatment depend the treatment and your health history.

Shifts in estrogen and progesterone cause the symptoms and signs of menopause. These symptoms and signs include the following:

  • Hot flashes, which are sudden instances of body heat, flushing, and sweating. They usually go away after a few minutes. Hot flashes are more common for women receiving the following treatments:

    • Chemotherapy

    • Tamoxifen (Nolvadex)

    • Aromatase inhibitors, such as anastrozole (Arimidex), exemestane (Aromasin), and letrozole (Femara).

  • Night sweats

  • Vaginal dryness, itching, irritation, or discharge

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Reduced desire for sexual activity

  • Thinning of the bones, called osteoporosis

  • Bladder control difficulties

  • Depression and mood swings

  • Insomnia

Managing the symptoms of menopause

Relieving side effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This is called symptom management or palliative care. Talk with your health care team about any symptoms of menopause you experience. This includes new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

It is important to remember that many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause diminish and disappear over time. Here are some general options for managing the symptoms of menopause:

  • Hot flashes. Consider these options for managing hot flashes:

    • Exercise

    • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, and other strategies to reduce stress

    • Cool room temperatures

    • Clothing layers, so you can adjust clothing during and after hot flashes

    Some women may be able to take medicines such as low-dose antidepressants or supplements. But, talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits before taking any medicines or supplements.

  • Osteoporosis.The following options may help you manage or prevent osteoporosis:

    • Perform weight-bearing exercise, such as walking 20 to 30 minutes per day.

    • Maintain a healthy body weight.

    • Take vitamin D and calcium supplements. Talk with your doctor to learn the current recommended dosage for these supplements, based on your age.

    In addition, your doctor may recommend a bone density test or suggest specific medicines.

  • Vaginal dryness. Consider using vaginal lubricants, estrogen creams, or using an estrogen ring. You may need to try several products to find one that works best for you and your partner. Talk with your doctor before using an estrogen ring. It may not be the best choice if you have estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

Hormone therapy for the symptoms of menopause

Combined hormone therapy is a combination of estrogen and progestin, a form of progesterone made in a laboratory. Combined hormone therapy may help relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and osteoporosis. But, doctors typically do not recommend the treatment for most women. Sometimes, a woman may receive low doses of hormone therapy for a short time.

Women with a history of breast cancer or a higher risk of breast cancer may need to avoid combined hormone therapy. For these women, it may contribute to cancer growth and increase the risk of other medical conditions.

Hormone therapy with estrogen only may be an option for women who have had a hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus.

The effects of combined hormone therapy are controversial. The risks and benefits of the treatment are different for each woman. Research in this area is ongoing.

If you are considering hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, talk with your doctor about your specific symptoms, medical history, and options for relieving the symptoms. Learn more about menopausal hormone therapy and cancer risk.

More Information

Long-Term Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Sexuality and Cancer Treatment: Women

Side Effects

Additional Resource

National Institute on Aging: Menopause