Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Cancer Survival Affects Menopause

By Stephen Luntz

Women who have survived cancer suffer more severe symptoms of menopause, but actually have better mental health than a control group of the same age according to a report in the journal Menopause.

Almost 1000 cancer survivors aged 40–60 were interviewed at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Western Australia, with their results compared to a control group. Although only one-third of Australian women who have survived cancer suffered from breast cancer, most of the women in the study were breast cancer survivors, reflecting the hospital’s patients. “We hope to replicate the study with survivors of other cancers,” says lead author Dr Jennifer Marino of the University of Melbourne’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“Our study showed for the first time that cancer survivors experienced more severe and frequent menopausal symptoms (such as hot flushes and night sweats) than patients who did not have cancer,” Marino says.

This result was not anticipated, since 43% of the women were on oestrogen-reducing drugs while most of the rest had either had such treatment or had their ovaries removed entirely. Marino says the study did not investigate whether those being treated while experiencing menopause were more affected than those whose treatment had ceased.

The finding that the cancer survivors’ mental health was better than the control group was surprising, as the sample would have included many who were at considerable danger of relapse. “We didn’t have the data on their prognosis,” Marino says.

“This is an interesting and surprising observation. Someone needs to explore more closely to find the source. I would not dare speculate at this stage.”

Marino warns against trying to alleviate symptoms by reducing treatment in a way that might increase the chance of cancer reoccurring. Instead she says, “there are therapies that are available for menopausal symptoms even when hormone replacement therapy is not safe. I would suggest women consult their doctor or seek a referral.”