Chemotherapy and Menopause Link
While cancer brings with it many life changes, one perhaps unexpected change can be the development of menopausal symptoms after a female undergoes chemotherapy treatment. Although the reasoning for menopausal symptoms after chemotherapy is not yet completely understood, there are a number of reasons it is thought to predispose a female to an early menopause.
How Does Chemotherapy Trigger Menopausal Changes?
When a woman undergoes chemotherapy, she may experience irregular menstrual cycles as a result of the treatment. She may even experience a complete disappearance of menstruation, which is also known as amenorrhoea. There are medications that are utilised in chemotherapy, which can lead to ovarian damage. When the ovaries become damaged, a woman may then begin to experience menopausal symptoms or menopause.
Changes a Woman Experiences
The changes can vary from one woman to another with regards to the exact menopause symptoms experienced. Some women may find that menopause occurs immediately while others find that given their age, it may even be delayed. Not only that, but menopausal symptoms can be temporary or they may ultimately be permanent, leading up to a woman's last menstrual period. While it would be helpful if a woman who undergoes chemotherapy could predict her response in terms of menopausal symptoms or menopause, there is unfortunately no way to say for certain how chemotherapy or any other cancer treatments will influence a woman's menstrual cycle.
Noticing Menopausal Symptoms During Cancer Treatment
As you read more about the link between cancer treatments and menopause, you might expect that the menopausal symptoms would begin immediately after cancer treatment commences, but this is not typically the case. After chemotherapy starts, a woman may become aware of some menopausal symptoms, although the symptoms don't tend to start until at least a few months after chemotherapy treatment begins. The symptoms can then last for years – a long time after chemotherapy is completed.
Some women will have more sporadic menstrual cycles than they did prior to chemotherapy. They might miss one or more periods or find that their cycles are longer from one period to another. Conversely, a woman may find she has more frequent periods. However, in other women, no changes may occur to the cycle length but the flow could be different. Still, it's important that a woman speaks with her physician if she notices changes to her menstrual cycle, which can ensure that she is otherwise healthy.
The Return of Menstruation After Menopause
While some women will manage to go through chemotherapy without effects on their menstrual cycle, others will become pre-menopausal and may wonder if or when their ovaries will function again. Much of this answer is dependent on how old a woman is prior to chemotherapy. For younger women, they are less likely to experience menopausal symptoms or menopause in comparison with older women. This means that as a woman gets older and nears menopause, it is more likely that chemotherapy will trigger menopausal symptoms and it is also more likely that these symptoms will be permanent and she will enter menopause.
Although cancer can be a life threatening disease, menopause fortunately is not generally life threatening, despite the discomforts and challenges of handling menopausal symptoms. Our reproductive systems are not essential to maintain life, which means you can expect to enjoy decades of healthy life after you experience menopause. Even though you may be experiencing menopausal symptoms or you may have early menopause, your focus needs to primarily be on becoming and remaining cancer-free. It can be frustrating to deal with the menopausal effects related to cancer treatments, particularly if you were wanting to have a family. However, your commitment to being as healthy as possible throughout cancer treatment will help you to stay alive, whether you have reached an early menopause or not from cancer treatment.