7 things to know about menopause and breast cancer

Most women naturally go into menopause when they’re in their 40s or 50s. That’s because as a woman ages, she has fewer reproductive eggs and her estrogen and progesterone levels decline. After 12 months of not having a menstrual cycle, she’s considered to be in menopause. But for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, menopause can start earlier and feel more extreme. “Breast cancer treatment can speed up the process and intensify the symptoms,” says Bora Lim, M.D. Typical menopausal symptoms include hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain. Some women also experience changes in their metabolism and cholesterol levels. Here are seven things women with breast cancer should know about menopause. Chemotherapy can cause temporary menopause Chemotherapy fights cancer by attacking any rapidly growing cells. Women receiving chemotherapy – regardless of the type of cancer they’ve been diagnosed with – are at risk of the drugs attacking the ovaries. “Chemotherapy basically puts the ovaries to sleep,” Lim says. The ovaries stop processing the eggs, the woman stops having a period and she goes into temporary menopause. In most cases, menstruation returns naturally eight months to two years after chemotherapy stops. However, research shows that women who experience temporary menopause during treatment tend to go into complete menopause earlier than others. “But it really depends on the patient,” Lim adds. However, if a woman is already nearing menopause, chemotherapy may put her into complete menopause and her period may never return. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about whether your menopausal symptoms are permanent. “Bloodwork can help us understand what’s happening and prepare you for the future,” Lim says....