Menopausal Symptoms in Women

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2017

Menopause occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing eggs. Usually, this happens naturally during a woman’s mid-40s to mid-50s. As a result, a woman’s body makes less estrogen and progesterone. With reductions in these hormones, menstrual periods become irregular and eventually stop.

Menopause from cancer treatment

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

Symptoms of menopause

Symptoms and signs of menopause from cancer treatment depend on the treatments you received and your health history. Possible symptoms and signs include:

  • Hot flashes. These are sudden instances of body heat, flushing, and sweating. They usually go away after a few minutes.

  • Night sweats

  • Vaginal dryness, itching, irritation, or discharge

  • Painful sexual intercourse

  • Reduced desire for sexual activity

  • Thinning of the bones, called osteoporosis

  • Incontinence, which is difficulty with bladder control

  • Depression and mood swings

  • Insomnia

Hot flashes are more common for women receiving these treatments:

  • Chemotherapy

  • Tamoxifen (Nolvadex)

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

Managing the symptoms of menopause

Relieving side effects is an important part of cancer care and treatment. This is called palliative care or supportive care. Talk with your health care team about menopause symptoms you experience. Mention new symptoms or changes in symptoms.

Remember, many unpleasant symptoms of menopause eventually decrease and disappear.

 Options for managing specific symptoms of menopause are listed below.

Ways to manage hot flashes

Hormone therapy is the most effective way to manage hot flashes for some women. However, women who are receiving hormonal or endocrine therapy for cancer may not be able to take hormone replacement therapy. For these women, other medicines such as paroxetine (multiple brand names), venlafaxine (Effexor), gabapentin (Neurontin), and clonidine (Catapres, Kapvay) can also help. However, talk with your doctor about these options. Ask about the risks and benefits.

Other options to help manage hot flashes include:

  • Exercise

  • Practice relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and other strategies to reduce stress

  • Keep room temperatures cool

  • Layer clothing to adjust during and after hot flashes

  • Some women may consider taking medicine or supplements.

This information is based on ASCO recommendations for addressing sexual problems in people with cancerPlease note that this link takes you to another ASCO website.

Ways to manage or prevent osteoporosis

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

  • Maintain a healthy body weight

  • Take vitamin D and calcium supplements. Ask about the recommended doses, based on your age.

In addition, your doctor may recommend a bone density test or medicine.

Ways to manage vaginal dryness

Use vaginal lubricants, estrogen creams, or an estrogen ring. Choose a product that works best for you and your partner. You may try a few before finding the right one.

Talk with your doctor before using an estrogen ring. It may not be the best choice. Particularly if you have estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

Hormone therapy

Menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) delivers estrogen and progesterone or progestin. Progestin is a form of progesterone made in a laboratory.

MHT may help relieve symptoms like hot flashes and osteoporosis. However, doctors don’t recommend the treatment for most women. Women receiving MHT may have increased risk of certain conditions.

For severe symptoms, doctors may recommend low doses of MHT for a short time. Meanwhile, women who have had a hysterectomy may receive estrogen-only MHT. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus.

The risks and benefits of MHT are different for each woman. If you are considering the treatment, talk with your health care team. Share your symptoms and medical history. Ask about other options for relieving menopausal symptoms.

Related Resources

Long-Term Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Sexuality and Cancer Treatment: Women

Side Effects

More Information

National Institute on Aging: Menopause