New Options for Treating Menopausal Symptoms in Women with Breast Cancer

Women going through menopause can experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, urinary incontinence, sleep problems, mood changes, decrease in libido, and memory problems.

Many of these changes are linked to a decreased production of the female hormone estrogen.

Some women with annoying menopause symptoms can take oral estrogen replacement therapy to help alleviate their menopause symptoms. However, women who have had estrogen-linked breast cancer are typically advised not to take estrogen because it may raise their risk of breast cancer recurrence or metastasis.

Fortunately, even if you’ve had estrogen-positive breast cancer and can’t take estrogen replacement therapy, you do have a variety of non-hormonal treatment options for menopause symptoms.

Dr. Susan Crockett and her team of health care providers at Virtuosa GYN in San Antonio, Texas, would like to share the following information about non-hormonal treatments for menopause symptoms.

Vaginal estrogen

If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness that is leading to urinary tract infections or vaginal pain or itching or that is interfering with your ability to enjoy sex, using vaginal estrogen could help.

Studies suggest that vaginal estrogen does not appear to increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence in women who had estrogen-positive breast cancer.

If Dr. Crockett believes vaginal estrogen makes sense for you, she may prescribe a vaginal estrogen cream, suppository, or vaginal ring.

Estrogen-free moisturizers

Vaginal moisturizers provide a non-estrogen solution for vaginal dryness. These include products such as Replens or Hyalo Gen, which are available over the counter. They must be used on a regular basis to increase moisture in the vagina, unlike vaginal lubricants such as K-Y Jelly and Astroglide, which are used just before intercourse.

Medications for other uses

Certain medications that are typically prescribed for other uses also provide relief for menopausal symptoms.

For example, antidepressants such as citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac), venlafaxine (Effexor), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq) can help reduce the frequency and strength of hot flashes in some women.

And gabapentin (Neurontin), a medication prescribed for pain and seizures, may also help reduce hot flashes in menopausal women without raising the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Vaginal floor exercises

Women who experience post-menopausal urinary stress incontinence, a condition in which they leak urine when they laugh, sneeze, or exercise, may find relief by doing vaginal floor exercises, or Kegels.

To do Kegel exercises, lie down or sit in a comfortable position. Make sure the muscles in your abdomen, buttocks, and legs are relaxed. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold the squeeze for a count of 10. (Your pelvic floor muscles are the muscles you would use to stop the stream of urine while peeing.) Relax for a count of 10, and then repeat the tightening/relaxing process 10 times.

For best results, do Kegel exercises 3-5 times a day.

Mind-body strategies

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, paced respiration, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and tai chi may help reduce hot flashes, which can worsen when stress levels rise.

For example, breathing deeply in a slow, measured pace for several minutes can reduce the levels of stress hormones in your blood. Referred to as paced respiration, this breathing exercise has been shown to help lower the number and severity of hot flashes in some menopausal women.

Paced respiration can also help you relax and fall asleep.

Lifestyle changes

Making certain lifestyle changes may also help relieve menopause symptoms. These include quitting smoking, limiting your alcohol intake, exercising regularly (but not too close to bedtime), avoiding caffeine, avoiding spicy foods, and sleeping in a cool, dark bedroom.

Help for your menopause symptoms

If you’re experiencing unpleasant symptoms related to menopause, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Dr. Crockett can help determine which types of symptom relief can help you without increasing your risk of a breast cancer recurrence. Call Virtuosa GYN for an appointment today.

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