Senior woman with cancer, meditating while seated on the floor. She's wearing a gray head scarf and a black leotard.

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Nine lifestyle changes to combat chemotherapy-induced menopause

  • Women whose ovaries are affected by cancer treatment may experience menopausal symptoms.
  • Lifestyle changes may help you control your menopausal symptoms.

Women who have been diagnosed with cancer not only have to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment, but they may also have to deal with chemically induced menopause.

Menopause is a normal stage in a woman’s life. It’s the time right before or after she stops menstruating. For some women, this time is accompanied by symptoms, including:

  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Low libido
  • Headache
  • Depression and other emotional changes
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain

Chemotherapy drugs (such as Cytoxan), hormone-blocking medications (tamoxifen) or radiation therapy to the abdomen can affect the ovaries, causing periods to become irregular or to cease all together. Women whose ovaries are affected by cancer treatment may experience menopausal symptoms.

Lifestyle changes

You can take steps to help control these symptoms by making some lifestyle changes.

  1. Wear clothing in layers that can be easily removed and that are made from absorbent fabrics such as cotton
  2. Avoid hot drinks (such as coffee or black tea) and hot, spicy foods and alcohol.
  3. Keep the room temperature low, if you can control it.
  4. Keep track of how often hot flashes occur, how bad they are and the time they occur. Also note what is happening before the hot flashes. You may be able to identify triggers and control the hot flashes in the future.
  5. Exercise, when you feel up to it, to reduce stress, improve sleep and help prevent weight gain.
  6. Use an over-the-counter, water-based vaginal moisturizer.
  7. Meditate.
  8. Keep a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up.
  9. Try natural sleep-inducing remedies before bedtime such as warm milk with honey, chamomile tea or lemon verbena tea.

When to seek care

If your menopausal symptoms are severe and disrupt sleep or interfere with activities of daily living, you may want to talk with your oncologist, gynecologist or primary care provider. Your provider may have some other options for treating these symptoms. For example, there are some medications, herbal remedies and over-the-counter vitamins that can help with hot flashes. For severe depression, which is defined as depression lasting longer than two weeks, you may benefit from an anti-depressant or counseling.

It’s important that you talk to your doctor before taking any medication, herbal remedies or vitamin to deal with your menopause symptoms. Some of these supplements may interfere with your current medications.

Acupuncture may also help reduce symptoms. Research has shown that acupuncture may help reduce hot flashes.

The menopausal symptoms caused by chemotherapy may last a short time or for years after cancer treatment. Women who are pre-menopausal prior to treatment usually return to regular periods over time. Women who are approaching menopause age at the time of their cancer diagnosis or whose ovaries are removed due to their type of cancer, may experience permanent menopause.

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