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Ovarian Cancer

Menopause

Premenopausal women who have both ovaries removed as treatment for ovarian cancer are likely to enter the menopause soon after surgery. The most common symptom they had was hot flushes, which could be mild or brief 'tropical moments' but for some were dramatic and debilitating, and when they occurred at night disturbed sleep. Some women mentioned mood changes, one mentioned weight gain and another vaginal dryness and a tiredness that occurred at the same time each month. Some women wondered if their menopausal symptoms were particularly bad because they had been artificially induced.

 

Experienced hot flushes when she entered the menopause as a result of her treatment.

Experienced hot flushes when she entered the menopause as a result of her treatment.

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
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The only negative is going into an instant menopause, that's been the hardest symptom that I've had to deal with, that's better than, that's worse I should say, than all the effects of chemotherapy, because, you know, it's just that heat and that lack of control, and I know it's your body's thermometer, but you don't realise how that thermometer, if it's not working, can be just so extreme, and the effects of chemotherapy, you know what's happening, but the trouble with hot flushes is that they just can come at any time and they can be so awkward because you just don't know when to expect them. 

And you'll be talking to someone or in a situation where you are meeting people and you feel like you're wearing a neon sign, even if you are shopping and it happens you just think people are looking at you like 'what's wrong with her?' Because that's what it does to your body, it makes you feel that incredibly affected, and I think with a radical hysterectomy, because they've taken everything out, it's probably much more pronounced than it would be just to go through a natural menopause.

 

Entered the menopause as a result of her treatment, and reflects that she probably did have mood...

Entered the menopause as a result of her treatment, and reflects that she probably did have mood...

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 44
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But again I wasn't really, I'm not really sure what to expect with menopause. My mum went through it fairly easily I think. Yeah, she used to have hot flushes and but, you know, there are people that have terrific mood swings. I guess I did have some mood swings. Come to think of it I probably did have mood swings, but you always think you're perfect don't you, and you don't. But I guess I did. 

And I suppose sometimes I was a bit irrational in terms of things would upset me that perhaps, you know, little things would upset you that you'd flip when you shouldn't have done or something. You'd end up having to say 'Well I'm sorry about that but I don't know why I flipped'.  

Women whose menopause started during chemotherapy found it difficult to distinguish between symptoms of the menopause and side effects of the treatment. One woman's menopause didn't start until a year after her surgery and several others experienced no symptoms at all. Some women were glad that their periods had finished, but one missed them because her life had revolved around them for so many years.

 

Found it difficult to distinguish between menopausal symptoms and effects of the chemotherapy.

Found it difficult to distinguish between menopausal symptoms and effects of the chemotherapy.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 44
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Presumably having that hysterectomy plunged you immediately into a menopause?

Yes.

What was that like?

I think I was probably luckier than most but I used to have, I wasn't quite sure it if was the menopause, whether or not it was the reaction from the chemo, but I had this most weird feeling that used to start at the very top of my head as if there was sort of water running all over my head and then would go down all, down my body, which would then make me go very, very hot.  But I didn't go red. My body would be steaming and you'd touch it, and it was really damp but I didn't go red, luckily.  

Younger women whose menopause started as a result of surgery were often offered hormone replacement therapy (HRT) because the potential health benefits were considered to outweigh the risks. HRT succeeded in preventing or relieving menopausal symptoms in most of the women who took it, but a few experienced unpleasant side effects and changed to a different type of HRT. One stopped taking it because it didn't seem to be working and two others stopped because they did not want to increase their risk of getting breast cancer.

 

After discussion with her consultant and considerable research, decided to take HRT to protect...

After discussion with her consultant and considerable research, decided to take HRT to protect...

Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 30
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And actually at, after about a week and before I started with my chemotherapy, the worst thing was actually my menopausal symptoms, having immediately, through surgery, gone straight into menopause, and I really had some terrible symptoms, night sweats, hot flushes, everything. Now very early on the consultant started speaking to me about going on to HRT, and again I did tonnes of reading, did absolutely lots. 

So basically I really did think long and hard about whether I was going to go on HRT but all the medical evidence was pointing towards, because I was thirty years old I needed it for the oestrogen for my bones.

So anyway eight weeks later I did start taking HRT and I have been so lucky because from the day I started taking it I have had no menopausal symptoms whatsoever, absolutely brilliant, and not, I wouldn't go out saying to everyone 'oh you should all take HRT' because for me it was the right thing, and it has been, and it got rid of, that was one thing that I could shift out of the, because that really was the first two months, my worst problem.

 

Began taking HRT but stopped because she worried she might develop breast cancer.

Began taking HRT but stopped because she worried she might develop breast cancer.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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And I think I drove the doctors mad, I must have asked about five different doctors' 'Is it going to be all right, me having HRT?' 'Is it going to bring the cancer back?' 'Is it going to be safe?' All sorts of things and they all said 'You must have it because of your bones' and at the time 'because of your heart.' But, and I took HRT for two years and then I got a very uneasy feeling, I just felt I'd been through cancer once and I didn't want to put myself in the firing line for having another form of cancer.

And so having met a rep at a [nursing] study day I went on, and he was telling me about another alternative, I went down that line rather than carrying on with the HRT. And that, that suited me fine, and I still take, it's just a food supplement, but I feel much happier taking that rather than running the risk of being on HRT, however small that is.

Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have already been through, or started, the menopause. Older women who had been taking HRT for menopausal symptoms before their diagnosis were often taken off it because it increases the risk of developing breast cancer, and in some the menopausal symptoms returned. A few older women continued to take HRT after their diagnosis because of severe menopausal symptoms or to reduce symptoms of osteoporosis.

 

Took HRT for menopausal symptoms before her diagnosis but was taken off it and her symptoms...

Took HRT for menopausal symptoms before her diagnosis but was taken off it and her symptoms...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 56
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Before I was ill I was going through the menopause and I was taking HRT. So I was, I didn't have hot flushes and, I do now have hot flushes and whatever, which I didn't have before, because I obviously started taking the HRT for those sort of reasons. But, so I am having that now but apart from that nothing else worrying at all.

Did they take you off the HRT?

Yes, straight away. Well even when I went to the doctors, she, when, that second time for the, she said I must stop taking them straight away. And the oncologist said that she doesn't recommend HRT. She said, you know, for people that have had ovarian cancer. So I'm not planning on taking, I'm just taking the oil of evening primrose now, I'm not planning on taking anything else.

Is it difficult to cope with those hot flushes?

No, not really, no. I mean when, I think that when you've coped with being told you've got cancer I don't think anything else actually, you know, it doesn't feel, nothing feels quite so bad. I think before, probably if I'd had hot flushes, I would probably have gone to the doctors and said I've got to have something. But now nothing seems quite so bad I suppose really because, you know, it's such a sort of shocking thing to have happen to you really.

Women who could not, or chose not to take HRT often tried to relieve their menopausal symptoms with complementary therapies, such as evening primrose oil, sage, vitamins and food supplements. As well as using a herbal remedy one woman tried to reduce the severity of her hot flushes by consuming cooling foods and drinks. 

 

Used a herbal remedy and consumed cooling food and drinks to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Used a herbal remedy and consumed cooling food and drinks to relieve menopausal symptoms.

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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Sage. You know, just little drops of sage. You take 15 drops, morning and, well you take it three times a day, before your meal and I think it takes the edge off. It doesn't get rid of them. I've spoken to the specialist and he said there's only HRT that can actually get rid of it. But it does just seem to help a little bit, you know.

And the other thing is to try and keep cool. Keep yourself cool and maybe drink cool things and eat cool things. I've got a lovely book, actually, it's a recipe book, and I bought it at the Cancer Research shop, the bargain shop, you know, and it's all got herbal recipes and things like that and it tells you about all the different foods and it tells you which are cooling foods and which are hot foods. I mean, it's quite natural, if you think about that, chillies and garlics and things like that are going to be hot things and things like cucumber, cabbage, celery, are going to be cooling things, you know. So I mean, if you can drink cool drinks and eat cool foods, keep your system, you're trying to keep your system cool, you know, 'cos I find sometimes if I do have a cup of tea, which I do, if I hold the pot for too long, I'll get a hot sweat, you know. So I try to keep cool.

For more experience of the menopause see our 'Menopause' website.


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Last reviewed June 2016.

Last updated June 2016.

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