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Cancer Survivors Have More Severe Symptoms of Menopause

Women with a history of cancer are nearly twice as likely to experience severe menopausal symptoms, according to the results of a new study.

Women with a history of cancer were nearly twice as likely as women without a history of cancer to experience severe menopausal symptoms, according to the results of a new study.1
According to the study authors, this is the largest study to date that assesses how menopausal symptoms affect the quality of life of cancer survivors. A total of 1089 women-934 of whom were cancer survivors and 155 of whom had never had cancer-were surveyed about various factors relating to the severity of menopausal symptoms and their impact on quality of life and sexual function. All women included in the study ranged in age from 40 to 60 years, with the average age of menopause being 46 years and the average age of first clinic visit being 51 years. The clinic associated with this study is the Menopause Symptoms After Cancer Clinic, which operates within a general menopause service at a large women’s hospital in Australia.
Overall, the vasomotor symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats were more severe in cancer survivors than in noncancer participants. Cancer survivors were nearly twice as likely to report being severely troubled by vasomotor symptoms (odds ratio, 1.71; 95% confidence interval, 1.06 – 2.74). They also experienced more frequent (6.0 vs 3.1 in a 24-hour period; P < 0.001) and more severe (P = 0.008) hot flashes than their counterparts without cancer. More than 200 cancer survivors experienced more than 10 hot flashes a day.
Of interest was that the women who survived cancer, compared with participants with no history of cancer, were significantly less likely to report psychological and somatic symptoms of menopause and more likely to have a higher quality of life. There were no significant differences in physical and functional well-being, severity of gynecological symptoms, or sexual function.
According to Martha Hickey, MD, senior author of the study and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Melbourne, menopausal symptoms are a common and troublesome effect of cancer treatments for many women.2 “In women with hormone-sensitive cancer, such as breast cancer, effective treatments reduce estrogen levels, and this commonly leads to menopausal symptoms,” she said.
These findings provide an improved understanding of the nature and impact of menopause on cancer survivors while highlighting the need for better support services for menopausal women with no history of cancer, concluded study author Christobel Saunders, MD.2

Pertinent Points:
- Women who are cancer survivors experience more severe and frequent vasomotor symptoms of menopause than women with no history of cancer.
- The mental health of cancer survivors in terms of symptoms of anxiety and depression was better than that of noncancer participants.


1. Marino JL, Saunders CM, Emery LI, et al. 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. July 15, 2013. [Epub ahead of print]
2. The Melbourne Newsroom. Menopause symptoms worse in cancer survivors [press release]. Available at: http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/menopause-symptoms-worse-cancer-survivors. Accessed July 18, 2013.