Early menopause due to cancer treatment

Having to deal with the menopause when you’re young can be very hard. It’s natural to feel it’s unfair or worry about the future. Here's what you need to know about early menopause due to cancer treatment.

What is an early menopause?

The menopause happens when your ovaries stop producing eggs and your periods stop. For most, this does not happen until they are in their 40s or 50s. However, if cancer treatment has affected your ovaries or womb, it can cause an early menopause in your teens, 20s or 30s.

Menopause brought on by cancer treatment might not last. However, if it is permanent, it can be very tough to come to terms with.

Which cancer treatments can cause an early menopause?

The cancer treatments which can cause an early menopause include chemotherapy, surgery to remove both ovaries and radiotherapy to the pelvis.

You may also have symptoms or a temporary menopause if you are having hormonal treatments for breast cancer.

The risk of having an early menopause will depend on the type of chemotherapy drugs used, where any radiotherapy is focused and your age.

Menopause symptoms

The symptoms of the menopause and early menopause can be different for everyone. They can have a big impact on your daily life.

You will usually notice a change in the pattern of your periods. They might come less often or your flow might change. Eventually they will stop altogether.

Hot flushes and night sweats are common. This could lead to a lack of sleep, making you feel tired and irritable. Headaches and migraines, muscle aches, skin and body shape changes are all symptoms, too. You may also find you have mood swings, anxiety and low self-esteem.

You may pee more often during menopause and be more likely to get urine infections.

The menopause and early menopause can also impact your sex life. Find out more here.

Long-term effects of early menopause

As well as the common symptoms of menopause, which can continue for many years after your last period, there are also some long-term changes and risks to contend with, too.

The early menopause will affect your ability to have children naturally. You will also have an increased risk of heart disease and bone thinning.

Bone thinning

If you have been through the menopause, you have a higher risk of getting weak bones that may break more easily (osteoporosis). This is due to the lower hormone levels in your body.

Taking HRT can help stop your bones getting thinner and weaker. Exercising, eating a healthy diet and not smoking can all reduce your chances of osteoporosis.

Talk to your GP about taking vitamin supplements.

Heart disease

Lower hormone levels caused by the menopause can make the arteries carrying blood to the heart narrow. This increases your risk of heart disease or stroke.

Getting treatment for the menopause can reduce the risks. You should also exercise, eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.

Mental health

Menopause can be a hard time for everyone – whether you want children or not. Hormonal changes could affect your mood. The physical symptoms could impact on your wellbeing. You could be anxious about how it’s going to impact your relationship, or future relationships. You may have complicated feelings about your identity. You might even feel like you’ve lost a part of who you are.

Finding out you’re unable to have children can feel like a bereavement. It’s natural to grieve for the loss and this might take a long time. Everyone goes through this process in their own way. Putting your thoughts into words can help you figure out how to act on them. This is where your support network can play a vital role.

Do not keep these feelings to yourself. Talk to a partner, family member, trusted friend, your doctor, a member of your cancer care team or a counsellor. You’ll find just opening up will help you cope. It may not fix things straight away, but knowing you have a support network means you’re never alone.

Feeling ok about it is fine too. There’s no right or wrong here. It may be that you’ll face difficult feelings about it at some point in your life – just not now. Or it might just not feel like an issue. There’s no need to feel guilt or pressure from yourself or anyone else.

Coping with an early menopause

It can be a shock to discover you are also having to face early menopause as well as your cancer diagnosis.

The symptoms can feel overwhelming. You may find sharing how your symptoms are making you feel with family and friends will help or seeking a support group or counselling.

Treatments like HRT can help with physical symptoms. You can also get help to cope with the impact on your mental health.

How you might feel physically

During menopause, hormone changes can cause hot flushes, discomfort or pain during sex, weight gain, mood swings and poor concentration. You might not have any of these symptoms, or you might have a few. Most can be managed and will go away on their own, in time.

If you are having problems, your cancer team will be able to talk to you about your options. It’s tempting to search online for answers but the information you find could be misleading. Talk to someone about your individual needs. Try to take good care of yourself with a healthy diet and exercise.

Dealing with hot flushes

Hot flushes can come on quickly when you are going through the menopause so being prepared is key.

Think about your outfit choices. Try to wear light clothing and layers you can remove. You could go for styles that are cut away under your arms or with a lower neckline.

If you have long hair, try wearing it up or getting a new, shorter style so the back of your neck is not covered. Keeping to a healthy weight can help, as can exercise and reducing triggers like spicy food and caffeine. Use a fan or take a cool shower to cool down.

If you’re on the go, a can of cold drink – even just to put on the back of your neck – can be instantly relieving. There are also instant cooling towels available that you can keep in your bag.

You could talk to your team about complementary therapies that may help with night sweats, such as acupuncture. A thinner blanket could also help with this.

Hormone replacement treatment (HRT)

The most effective treatment for early menopause is HRT. This uses hormones to replace those your body has lost. There are different doses and types of HRT, including tablets, patches, implants and gels and sprays to put on the skin.

HRT can help relieve most symptoms including hot flushes, brain fog, joint pains, mood swings and vaginal dryness. People who have had breast cancer are not usually offered HRT because it could increase the risk of the cancer coming back. But, so far, research is unclear on how high this risk is.

Other treatments

You might be offered the combined contraceptive pill to make up for missing hormones when going through the menopause.

There are also non-hormone treatments if you choose not to or cannot have HRT or the combined pill. These include medicines for blood pressure medicine and epilepsy that can help with hot flushes and night sweats.

If you have anxiety or depression, you may be prescribed antidepressants. You may also find CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) helps.

Becoming a parent in the future

When it comes to becoming a parent in the future, you do have options. These could include fertility treatment, using a surrogate, or an egg or sperm donor. Fostering and adoption are also things you could consider when it feels right for you.

What matters is that you feel happy and supported in your decision, whether raising children is a part of your life or not. Read more here.

Sources of support and information

Page updated: May 2023

Next update due 2027