Early menopause

Some treatments for breast cancer (chemotherapy, hormone-blocking therapy and surgical removal of ovaries (oophorectomy)) can induce premature menopause because they create an oestrogen deficiency.  Younger women with regular periods are likely to experience more pronounced side effects of oestrogen deficiency with the onset of premature menopause "because they undergo more significant change in oestrogen levels than older women who are often already experiencing a natural decline in ovarian function" (Dr Megan Ogilvie, Fertility Associates NZ).

Menopausal symptoms may include hot flushes and night sweats, disrupted sleep, mood swings, mild/moderate depression, anxiety, and vaginal dryness/sensitivity. Your medical team will be able to help with managing menopausal side effects and it's important to discuss this. Symptoms can impact on your quality of life so letting your doctors know if things become unbearable, is important for your wellbeing. Especially as your treatments for breast cancer may go on for some time, even years with hormone blocking treatments.

Premature menopause can also have an effect on your bone density as oestrogen is needed for strong bones. As we age and oestrogen levels naturally decline, our bone density or 'strength' can be affected. Osteoporosis is a 'thinning' of the bone, a natural result of ageing, but it can also be induced and/or accelerated by the oestrogen-reducing treatments for breast cancer.

Having a benchmark bone density scan prior to commencement of some breast cancer treatments, and follow up scans at prescribed intervals, is standard these days. It enables your medical team to keep an eye on changes in your bone density as you progress through your treatment plan. Bone thinning is a gradual process over years and may or may not be an issue for you. However it’s good to discuss this with your doctors and review the short and long term impacts of treatment on your bone health.
Dr Ogilvie writes about bone health and offers some 'self-help' ways for you to care for your bones. She also outlines the use of medical treatments if your bone density is at risk or low.

The Osteoporosis New Zealand site has some great information about bone health.



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