Breast Cancer and Menopause
Many women wrongly believe that the menopause somehow increases their chances of developing cancer, particularly breast cancer. In fact, many types of cancer become more likely with age and this is true of breast cancer. This means that for many women, the age of the menopause coincides with the ages at which breast cancer becomes more likely. It does not mean that the menopause is in any way a sign or symptom of breast cancer or that breast cancer necessarily follows the menopause.
MenopauseThe menopause begins when levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body drop and the ovaries become inactive. With the ovaries inactive, menstrual periods cease. This means that a woman is no longer able to have children following the menopause and so it is sometimes referred to as “the change” or “the change of life”. The average age of menopause is about 50, though women may experience the menopause anywhere between the ages of 40 and 60. When the menopause is experienced before the age of 35 it is said to be premature.
Symptoms of MenopauseMost symptoms of the menopause are the result of falling levels of oestrogen in a woman’s body. These symptoms can include fewer or lighter menstrual periods, hot flushes, a rapid heart beat, mood swings, disturbances to sleep patterns and vaginal dryness. Breasts may feel softer and/or bigger after the menopause, but for the most part changes occur to both breasts. If a change occurs to only one breast, having it checked out by a medical professional is a good idea. Completing routine self breast exams during and after the menopause remains an important way for women to detect any changes in their breasts quickly.
Hormone Therapy and MenopauseMany women are prescribed hormone therapy, sometimes also called hormone replacement therapy, as a treatment for the symptoms of the menopause. In the past, hormone therapy as a treatment of the menopause was linked to increased rates of breast cancer but today such a relationship can not be said with certainty. Instead, it can be said that a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer seem to increase the longer she is exposed to female hormones. This includes the hormones produced by her own body, taken orally or transmitted via a patch. Women concerned about hormone therapy as a way to lessen the symptoms of the menopause should discuss their fears fully with their doctors.
The menopause tends to occur around the same time that breast cancer becomes more common in women. This means that women must pay attention to the changes in their body, especially their breasts, and report any suspicious changes immediately. Changes to the size or shape the breast, lumps found in the breast, unusual discharge, dimpling or changes to the breast skin and even unusual itching of the breast or nipple should all be noted and reported. Early detection helps give women the best chance of surviving breast cancer so anything detected during a monthly breast self exam should be taken seriously.