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Menopausal symptoms may be more severe for cancer survivors

Monday July 22, 2013
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Women who survive cancer have more frequent, severe and troubling hot flashes than other women with menopausal symptoms, according to an Australian study.

However, cancer survivors in the study fared better psychologically and reported a better quality of life than other women, and they had similar levels of sexual activity and function.

Published July 15 on the website of Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society, the study was described as the first large-scale, clinic-based study to compare menopausal women with and without a history of cancer using standard, validated questionnaires.

The study included 934 cancer survivors (about 90% of whom were breast cancer survivors) and 155 participants without a cancer history who were patients at King Edward Memorial Hospital in western Australia. The questionnaires, including the Green Climacteric Scale and Fallowfield’s Sexual Activity Questionnaire, assessed hot flashes and other menopause-related symptoms and sexual function.

For the cancer survivors, hot flashes were much more frequent and severe: 76% reported they had hot flashes in the past 24 hours, compared with 54% of women without cancer; and 60% reported those hot flashes were severe or very severe, compared with 40% of the women without cancer.

The authors pointed out menopausal symptoms also seemed to persist much longer in the cancer survivors, many of whom complained of menopausal symptoms for a number of years after their cancer diagnosis.

But the cancer survivors were less troubled by psychological and physical symptoms of menopause and reported better quality of life than the women without cancer. In fact, the cancer survivors were less likely to have severe mood swings or sadness and reported significantly better social and family well-being.

In addition, the cancer survivors had about the same levels of sexual activity and function, and about as many (49%) reported severe vaginal dryness as women without cancer (47%).

However, the survivors were more likely to attribute their sexual inactivity to "a physical problem that makes sexual relations difficult or uncomfortable."

The inclusion in the study of women who may have undergone cancer therapy years before could help account for some of the surprising findings, the authors said. The cancer survivors’ better emotional and social well-being may be the result of the social and psychological support available for cancer survivors. The authors also noted the similar rate of sexual problems did not mean the cancer survivors fared well, given that the rates were high in both groups.

"Both expected and surprising, these results highlight that all menopausal women, including cancer survivors, need effective treatment options for their hot flashes and sexual symptoms," NAMS Executive Director Margery Gass, MD, said in a news release.

Read the study abstract: http://bit.ly/12wqzvI.


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