Pre-menopausal women who are given estrogen-suppression chemotherapies to reduce their risk of developing hereditary breast or ovarian cancer (previvors) or after a hereditary breast or ovarian cancer diagnosis to reduce their risk of a recurrence or development of a second primary site will experience early menopause. Pre-menopausal women who have their ovaries/fallopian tubes removed whether before or after an ovarian cancer diagnosis will also experience early menopause.
When menopause is brought on by means other than nature, it is often more severe. There are ways to mitigate symptoms, including the use of hormone replacement drugs. In the case of risky gene carriers who are previvors, hormone replacement may be possible if breasts are no longer intact - to reduce symptoms and carry young women through to the normal age of menopause. However, hormone replacement is not usually recommended for those who have already developed hereditary cancer. Post-menopausal risky gene carriers are usually not advised to use hormone replacement.
When choosing whether to take hormone replacement and if so what type, do your homework and ensure your medical professional fully understands the implications of your status as a risky gene carrier.
Aside from loss of fertility as a direct result of early menopause, women will have to deal with a series of physical and emotional changes. The loss of estrogen plays a role in regulating many different functions throughout the body, so when production is diminished suddenly rather than over a period of years, some women may have difficulty dealing with potential severe side effects. In addition, young women facing early menopause have an increased risk of developing other health conditions such as osteoporosis.
Each individual is different, so side-effects and the intensity will vary. These may include:
Loss of Libido
Changes in Odor
There are a number of treatments that have been shown to help short and long-term side effects of menopause. Vaginal estrogen creams, rings and tablets effectively address vaginal dryness in menopausal women; however, there is concern that vaginal estrogen may not be safe for women with a history of estrogen-dependent (ER+) breast cancer.
Of the little specialized research available, some reports that a well-known osteoporosis drug may also help prevent breast cancer. Osteoporosis drug touted as potential 'BRCA-blocker'
There is increasing evidence that lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and a healthy diet can reduce menopausal symptoms and help ward off osteoporosis and heart disease. However, caution should be taken in the area of supplements that contain high levels of plant estrogen, since the reduction of estrogen is the goal for those who carry risky genes. As always, check with your doctor before beginning any new regime.
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