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Beating Breast Cancer Before Age 40 May Mean Multiple Menopauses

April 10, 2018

Kylie-Minogue.jpg

By J.E.T. 603 [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Nancy Gay

Hot flashes, mood swings and weight gain are just some of the challenging symptoms of menopause. As if dealing with "the change" isn’t hard enough, many breast cancer survivors go through menopause twice.

Singer Kylie Minogue recently made headlines when she announced she was preparing herself for a second menopause after beating breast cancer more than a decade ago - and she’s not alone.

Moffitt Cancer Center’s Dr. Hung Khong, says breast cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or endocrine therapy can lead to premature menopause in young women.

The ovaries stop functioning and hormone levels fall within weeks or months during medical menopause versus over the course of several years during natural menopause. This sudden onset may cause more intense symptoms than traditional menopause, but it depends on the individual woman.

Dr. Hung Khong
Dr. Hung Khong

Dr. Khong says the length of time treatment-induced menopause lasts varies depending on the patient’s treatment and age. He explains that many women under the age of 40 may recover their ovarian function within six months to a year. Then they will go on to experience a natural menopause in their late 40s or early 50s (the so-called second menopause). However, many women who are in their 40s may experience a permanent menopause from their cancer treatment and will not undergo a natural menopause.

According to the American Cancer Society, managing the symptoms of second menopause may be trickier because hormone replacement therapy, which is often used to treat difficult cases of menopause, is not recommended for those who are undergoing or who’ve undergone breast cancer treatment. This is because of the known link between estrogen levels and breast cancer growth. The American Cancer Society recommends speaking to your physician and trying things such as eating soy (due to the phytoestrogens it contains), taking non-hormone medicines and undergoing acupuncture.