QUESTION: I am preparing to start chemotherapy for treatment of cancer. I am a young (in my late 30's) woman and my doctor told me I may have symptoms of menopause. What does this mean? Is it permanent? Can I become pregnant? Is there treatment for this?
ANSWER: Menopause is a normal stage in a woman's life. The term menopause is commonly used to describe any of the changes women experience either before or after she stops menstruating. Technically, the diagnosis of menopause is not confirmed until a woman has not had her period for six consecutive months.
During chemotherapy, women may have preliminary signs of menopause such as irregular menstrual cycles or her periods may disappear. Some medications used in chemotherapy may also cause damage to the ovaries, resulting in menopausal symptoms or menopause. Menopause may be immediate or delayed, permanent or temporary when triggered by chemotherapy. Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately determine how or when chemotherapy or other cancer treatments will affect your menstrual cycle. However, menopause is rarely a sudden response to chemotherapy. When chemotherapy treatments begin, you may notice some menopausal symptoms, but they are usually delayed for several months after treatment is started. This is natural.
Many pre-menopausal women retain or recover ovarian function and their periods return after treatment is completed. In such cases, the chemotherapy has not truly brought on menopause. Return of ovarian function may depend on the woman's age prior to treatment and the type of medication she received during treatment.
There is always a chance that you can get pregnant as long as you are menstruating. While on chemotherapy, your menstrual cycle may become irregular. As a result, you may never quite be sure where you are in your menstrual cycle and your period may take you by surprise. Some of your menstrual cycles may be non-egg producing,, but you cannot rely on this. Even if your periods seem to have stopped, you should use a safe and effective method of birth control during and for 4-8 weeks after chemotherapy has ended.
The most common symptoms of menopause (whether chemotherapy-related or not) are hot flashes, emotional changes, sexuality changes, and weight gain. The symptoms will vary from person to person. There are treatments available to assist in managing these symptoms, but they must be supervised/ prescribed by a doctor.
Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.