Menopause symptoms worse in cancer survivors

Cancer survivors were twice as likely to experience severe menopausal symptoms compared to women who have not had cancer, a new Australian study has found.

The study ( published in Menopause, the Journal of the North American Menopause Society) was led by the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital Melbourne, with the King Edward Memorial Hospital and the University of Western Australia.

Lead author, Dr Jennifer Marino of the University of Melbourne and the Royal Women’s Hospital said the study was the biggest of its kind to assess the impact of menopausal symptoms on the quality of life of cancer survivors.

“Our study showed for the first time, that cancer survivors experienced more severe and frequent menopausal symptoms (such as hot flushes and night sweats) than patients who did not have cancer,” Dr Marino said.

More than 151,000 (around one in 25) women in Australia are cancer survivors with more than one third of those are breast cancer survivors.

Almost 1,000 cancer survivors (mostly breast cancer) and 155 non-cancer patients aged 40 to 60, who attended the Menopause Symptoms After Cancer Clinic at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Western Australia, were surveyed to determine a range of factors including severity of menopausal symptoms, impact on quality of life and sexual function.

Cancer survivors had twice as many hot flushes (six compared with three in 24 hours) and were twice as likely to report severe or very severe flushes as non-cancer patients. More than 200 cancer survivors reported experiencing more than 10 flushes a day.

Interestingly, the mental health of cancer survivors appeared to be better than the non-cancer patients.

“The study revealed the cancer survivors were less troubled by symptoms of anxiety and depression than women attending the menopause service who had never had cancer,” Dr Marino said.

Senior author Professor Martha Hickey said menopausal symptoms were a frequent and distressing effect of cancer treatments in women.

“In women with hormone sensitive cancer such as breast cancer, effective treatments reduce estrogen levels and this commonly leads to menopausal symptoms,” she said.

Co-author Professor Christobel Saunders, Deputy Head of the University of Western Australia School of Surgery, said the findings were significant in providing an improved understanding of the nature and impact of menopause on cancer survivors while also highlighting the need for better support services for menopausal women without cancer.

Marino et al., (2013). Nature and severity of menopausal symptoms and their impact on quality of life and sexual function in cancer survivors compared with women without a cancer history. Menopause, EPub Ahead of Print doi:10.1097/GME.0b013e3182976f46 [Abstract]

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