Menopause & breast cancer


While menopause itself is not a risk for breast or other cancers, it’s important to know that some symptom treatments and other factors can increase the risk for cancer among menopausal women.

Menopause occurs when a woman’s reproductive cycle is over and she can no longer produce offspring. For many women, menopause occurs around age 50.

The North American Menopause Society says that a woman going through perimenopause and menopause may experience various symptoms, which can range from hair loss to food cravings to hot flashes to vaginal dryness. The National Institutes of Health indicates some women undergo combined hormone therapy, also called hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, to help relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and osteoporosis. This therapy replaces estrogen and progestin, which diminish in a woman’s body after menopause sets in. However, NIH’s Women’s Health Initiative Study has found that women undergoing HRT have a higher risk of breast cancer, among other conditions.

WebMD says evidence suggests that the longer a woman is exposed to female hormones, whether it’s those made by the body, taken as a drug or delivered by a patch, the more likely she is to develop breast cancer. That means that HRT can increase breast cancer risk and also indicates that the longer a woman remains fertile the greater her risk for certain cancers. Females who began menstruating before age 12 or entered menopause after age 55 will have had many ovulations. This increases the risk of uterine, breast and ovarian cancers, states the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It also may impact a woman’s chances of developing endometrial cancer.

Gaining weight after menopause can also increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, states the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight or even losing a little weight can be beneficial.

Women who enter menopause are not necessarily at a higher risk for breast cancer, but some factors tied to menopause can play a role. Females who want to lower their risk for various cancers are urged to eat healthy diets, quit smoking and maintain healthy body weights.

The bottom line

When a woman suspects she’s in perimenopause, it is an excellent time to have a complete medical examination by a qualified health professional. The diagnosis of perimenopause can usually be made by reviewing a woman’s medical history, her menstrual history, and her signs and symptoms.

The most common symptoms women in their 40s notice are changes in periods and the onset of hot flashes. Menopause is defined as 12 months without a menstrual bleed, in the absence of other conditions. To date, there is no simple test to predict or confirm menopause or perimenopause, but research continues.