Coping with Surgical Menopause After Ovarian Cancer
Any cancer diagnosis is a shock, and the treatments required to save your life can be enormously challenging. If you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and your doctor has recommended the removal of some of your sex organs to treat it, you should know how your body will be affected.
A hysterectomy is a surgery to remove the uterus, and the procedure may also include removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Surgical menopause refers to the immediate induction of menopause brought on by the removal of the ovaries, a woman’s primary source of estrogen.
Here’s what you need to know about the surgery itself, how your body may react following a hysterectomy and treatments that can help you cope with the side effects of surgical menopause.
Surviving ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer often causes no symptoms in its earliest stages, so it can go undetected while it spreads to the pelvis and the abdomen. This phenomenon, known as metastasis, makes the cancer more difficult to treat.
Symptoms such as bloating, weight loss, frequent urination and loss of appetite can be indicators of ovarian cancer, but they are also common symptoms of menstruation. Because of this, patients can sometimes miss critical symptoms. If you experience these conditions for a long period of time, you should talk to your doctor about your concerns.
It is important to act as soon as you suspect there may be a problem. Ovarian cancer can progress from early to advanced stages in less than a year, and detecting it early can lead to more successful outcomes.
Women who survive ovarian cancer know the road to recovery is a tough one, and the necessary treatments can cause lasting changes to the body.
What is surgical menopause?
One way to treat ovarian cancer is to have a total hysterectomy to remove the uterus, usually in conjunction with a procedure known as a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy to remove both fallopian tubes and ovaries. This procedure can prevent the disease from spreading to other parts of the body.
While the menopausal process brings changes to a woman’s body over a period of time, most often in middle age, a hysterectomy causes those changes overnight. Estrogen levels drop so significantly and abruptly once the ovaries are removed, menopause kicks in immediately.
Menopause brought on after a hysterectomy is known as surgical menopause.
Living with surgical menopause
Symptoms of surgical menopause include hot flashes, loss of bone density, dry skin, mood swings and vaginal dryness that can impair sexual function.
Lubricant and topical estrogen creams can help with vaginal dryness. Hormone replacement therapy is very often contraindicated in ovarian cancer patients, but you still may want to talk with your doctor about hormone therapy, which can treat hot flashes and other symptoms. Non-hormonal medications can treat hot flashes and mood swings, too, so discuss such options with your doctor. As for maintaining bone density during surgical menopause, research has shown that regular exercise and strength training can help significantly.
Successfully treating ovarian cancer with a hysterectomy certainly brings relief, but it’s normal to feel discomfort and frustration as you learn to adapt to surgical menopause after the procedure.
By doing a little research, keeping a line of communication open with your doctor and especially your loved ones, and making a few alterations to your daily routine, you can successfully manage surgical menopause symptoms and enjoy a comfortable life.