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Does menopause increase cancer risk in women?

What's the link between cancer and menopause? An oncologist tells you all about how the risk of gynaecological cancers can increase once women hit menopause.
Link between cancer and menopause
Link between cancer and menopause. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Updated: 14 Feb 2023, 16:53 pm IST
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Cancer and menopause are both serious health problems that can affect women’s health. Did you know that most gynaecological cancers are seen after menopause?

Menopause is a natural process that takes place when your menstrual cycle gets over. Menopause can usually occur during 40s or 50s. The ovaries in women produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which regulate their menstrual cycle and ovulation. Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop producing an egg each month and menstruation ceases.

Breast, uterus and other body parts have receptors for oestrogen. These tissues are exposed to oestrogen with each menstrual cycle. As a result, a woman’s cancer risk is affected by the age at which menopause begins. Women who experience late menopause, which after the age of 50 or more, are vulnerable to breast cancer and endometrial cancer due to a longer lifetime exposure to oestrogen.

We see more cancer after menopause because as we age , the cells of most organs might have some oncogenic mutations and then develop cancer.

Menopause affects all women differently
Menopause affects all women differently. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Types of gynaecologic cancers diagnosed in women

Cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancer are the five most common types of gynaecological cancers.

The only gynaecologic cancer for which screening tests are available is cervical cancer, which can be found early and treated most successfully. It is especially important to recognise warning signs and find out if there are things which can be done to reduce cancer risk because there is no quick and accurate way to screen for other gynaecologic cancers than cervical cancer.

Cancer treatments that can cause premature menopause

Yes, cancer treatments can sometimes cause premature menopause. This may be due to surgical removal of ovaries, effect of chemotherapy on ovaries or hormone therapy or anti-estrogenic therapy that prevents your ovaries from producing oestrogen. Even radiation therapy in your pelvis or lower abdomen can lead to early menopause.

Cancer in women
The incidence of cancer cases in women is on a rise. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Symptoms of menopause after cancer treatment

Many women experience troublesome menopausal symptoms after cancer treatment, including hot flushes, night sweats, loss of interest in sex, difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, mood swings, depleting bone density and strength, extreme vaginal dryness and impact on cardiovascular health.

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Risk factors of menopause and cancer

The major risk factors for cancer after menopause are:

1. When hormone exposure, such as oestrogen, has increased.
2. Ovulation have increased in number.
3. Increasing age
4. Increased exposure to other carcinogens

Women should be aware of the potential link between menopause and cancer and discuss their personal risk factors with their healthcare provider. This can assist them in taking better decisions concerning cancer screening and protection, as well as receiving appropriate care, if needed.

Measures to prevent cancer during menopause or post-menopause

Early detection and treatment can greatly improve the chances of successful cancer treatment. So, women should seek medical attention immediately if they notice any unusual changes or symptoms.

Following a nutritious diet, regular exercising, avoiding tobacco, curtailing alcohol consumption, and going for regular routine check-ups are some measures that can be taken to detect cancer early. These lifestyle modifications, in conjunction with appropriate medical care, can assist women in maintaining their health and lowering their chances of developing cancer.

Cancer can affect fertility
Cancer can affect fertility. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Menopause and cancer development

Not all cancers are directly linked to menopause. The incidence of many cancers, including breast cancer, does, however, rise with advancing age. Furthermore, some of the medications used to treat menopausal symptoms or hormone replacement therapy which is often used to relieve menopausal symptoms may increase or decrease a person’s cancer risk. Lung and colorectal cancer, for example, are more common in postmenopausal women, but they are not caused by the hormonal changes associated with menopause.

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