How to deal with menopausal symptoms

Your breast cancer treatment may cause you to feel menopausal symptoms. This is because:

  • you were taken off hormone replacement therapy or
  • your chemotherapy drugs (such as cytoxan) or hormone blocking medicines (such as tamoxifen) brought on menopause

Common menopause symptoms—and ways to deal with them—include:

The following suggestions are ways you may want to deal with hot flashes.

  • Wear clothing made from absorbent fabrics, such as cotton.
  • Wear clothing in layers that can be removed.
  • Avoid hot drinks (such as coffee or black tea and hot, spicy foods).
  • Keep the room temperature low, if you can control it.
  • Learn how to reduce long-term and short-term stress. Good choices are exercise and relaxation techniques.
  • Keep track of how often the 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 control them in the future.
  • Medicines can sometimes control hot flashes. Discuss various choices with your oncologist.
  • Over-the-counter vitamins may also help control hot flashes. Some choices are vitamin E (800 IU every day), vitamin B6 (250 mg every day) or vitamin C plus bioflavonoids (two or three tablets every day).
  • Many herbal remedies (such as evening primrose oil) may help control hot flashes.
  • Some of these herbs contain plant estrogens.
  • Talk with your doctor before trying herbal remedies. The plant estrogens have been linked to the prevention of breast cancer, but there is no research that indicates they are either safe or unsafe for a woman who has breast cancer. Some herbal choices are ginseng root, garlic, hops, catnip, chamomile, passion flower, royal jelly or soy.

The following suggestions are ways you may want to deal with vaginal dryness.

  • Use over-the-counter products such as Replens®, Gyne-Moistrin® and Lubrin®. They work for about three days in a row.
  • Use water-based moisturizers (such as Astroglide® and K-Y Jelly®) to make sexual intercourse easier. You should avoid Vaseline® and petroleum jelly because they are not good for your vaginal tissues. If you have vaginal atrophy, a dilator may make intercourse easier.
  • Putting low-dose estrogen right on the vagina through a vaginal ring also helps. This has been shown to result in little or no increase in circulating estrogens, and so may be safe for a woman with breast cancer.

The following suggestions are ways you may want to deal with depression.

  • For mild depression: The drug(s) you take to treat cancer may increase your depression. An exercise program geared just for you helps decrease depression. If the depression makes it hard for you to start and enjoy an exercise program, you may need a friend to exercise with you. This person can motivate you to keep going, even when you don't feel like it.
  • For severe depression: A depression that lasts longer than two weeks is not normal. Talk with your doctor if your depression won't go away. Medicine or counseling may help turn your negative thoughts into positive ones.

The following suggestions are ways you may want to deal with insomnia (difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep).

  • Go to bed only when you are planning to sleep.
  • Do not lie in bed to watch TV or read.
  • Keep a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up.
  • Get up on time even if you did not sleep well.
  • Set a time during the day to worry.
  • Get up if you do not fall asleep within 30 minutes.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed.
  • Avoid alcohol because it interferes with sleep patterns.
  • Try natural sleep-inducing remedies before bedtime such as warm milk with honey, chamomile tea, or lemon verbena tea.

The following suggestion may help you deal with headaches. They are caused by an upset in the balance of hormones. This occurs when you have a decrease in either estrogen or progesterone.

  • Try taking anti-inflammatory drugs such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. Check with your doctor before taking these medicines. They may cause side effects when mixed with the other drugs (especially chemotherapy medicines) you are taking.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department How To Deal With Menopausal Symptoms Caused By Cancer Treatments, can-ahc-10579 (4/07)
First Published: 04/15/2010
Last Reviewed: 04/15/2010