Early menopause may increase risk of breast and ovarian cancers, says study

If menopause arrives early in a woman's life, it may lead to breast and ovarian cancer, as per a study. Let us tell you the link between early menopause and cancer.
View All Images Early menopause linked to certain types of cancer
Early menopause may increase risk for developing two types of cancer. Image courtesy: Freepik
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 30 Jun 2024, 06:00 pm IST
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Every woman experiences menopause, when  But when periods stop before the age of 45, it is called early menopause. Its main symptom is irregular periods or not having them at all. Night sweats, vaginal dryness, difficulty sleeping, and reduced sex drive are other symptoms of early menopause. The symptoms are the same as what women over 45 experience during menopause. So, you may think it is not a big deal for menopause to arrive early. You should not take early menopause lightly, as it may increase risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. Read on to know the link between early menopause and cancer.

New study on early menopause and cancer

Some women who experience early menopause have an increased risk for developing breast as well as ovarian cancer, according to a research presented earlier this month during an annual meeting by the Endocrine Society in Boston, U.S.

Woman unable to sleep due to early menopause
Early menopause is linked with breast and ovarian cancer. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Researchers at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City began the study with the hypothesis that some women who have primary ovarian insufficiency and members of their family might be predisposed to certain types of cancers. Women have primary ovarian insufficiency when their ovaries stop working normally before they turn 40. During the study, the researchers found that women who had early menopause had two times greater risk for breast cancer, and the risk was increased by almost four times for ovarian cancer.

In another study, it was found that women who enter menopause before turning 40 are more likely to die at a younger age. The research published in May 2024 in Endocrine Abstracts noted that women who had early menopause are twice as likely to die from heart disease. They also found that such women are four times as likely to die from cancer.

What is menopause?

It is a natural biological process that women go through in their life. It marks the conclusion of menstrual cycles and reproductive years. It typically occurs in women after they turn 45. During this phase, a woman’s ovaries significantly reduce their production of estrogen and progesterone, which are the two key hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle and reproductive system, explains obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Chetna Jain.

What is early menopause?

It is the onset of menopause before the age of 45, and is characterised by the same symptoms and hormonal changes as typical menopause. It just occurs earlier in a woman’s life.

What are the causes of early menopause?

Here are some of the causes:

  • A family history of early menopause.
  • Procedures such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical removal of the ovaries.
  • Conditions like thyroid disease and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to early ovarian failure.
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Certain infections, such as mumps, can damage the ovaries and cause early menopause.

How is early menopause linked to breast and ovarian cancer?

Early menopause can be linked to breast and ovarian cancer primarily through its association with medical treatments and genetic factors. Women who undergo treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer may experience early menopause due to the damaging effects these treatments can have on the ovaries, says the expert.

Early menopause and cancer
Early menopause can be prevented to some extent. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Also, the surgical removal of ovaries (oophorectomy) as a preventive measure for those at high risk of ovarian or breast cancer (such as women with BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations) results in immediate menopause. Genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, significantly increase the risk of both breast and ovarian cancers, says Dr Jain. So, women with these mutations often undergo prophylactic oophorectomy to reduce cancer risk.

How to prevent early menopause?

You can take a few steps to prevent early menopause:

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1. Healthy lifestyle choices

Avoid smoking, as it is strongly linked to early menopause. Quitting smoking can help preserve ovarian function, says the expert. Eat a balanced diet, as consuming a diet that has fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains can support overall health and potentially delay menopause. Maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active to regulate hormones and support reproductive health.

2. Medical interventions

For women undergoing treatments like chemotherapy or radiation that can induce early menopause, options such as egg freezing or ovarian shielding may help preserve fertility and delay menopause. In some cases, doctors may also prescribe hormone therapies to help regulate menstrual cycles and maintain hormone levels.

3. Manage health conditions

Effectively managing autoimmune diseases with the help of a doctor can reduce the risk of early ovarian failure. Go for routine check-ups to help detect and manage health issues that might contribute to early menopause, says the expert.

4. Stress management

Chronic stress can impact your hormone levels. So, go for techniques such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness or just listen to soothing music to help manage stress.

It’s not possible to entirely prevent early menopause, but these strategies can help reduce the risk for cancer and support overall reproductive health.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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