Managing menopausal symptoms after cancer: an evidence-based approach for primary care

Jennifer L Marino, Helen C McNamara and Martha Hickey
Med J Aust 2018; 208 (3): . || doi: 10.5694/mja17.00693
Published online: 19 February 2018



  • Impaired ovarian function and menopausal symptoms are common after cancer treatment.
  • Menopausal symptoms often occur at an earlier age in women with cancer, and may be more severe than in natural menopause; they may be the most persistent and troubling sequelae of cancer.
  • A third of female patients with cancer report dissatisfaction with the quality and length of physician–patient discussions about reproductive health, including menopause.
  • Systemic menopausal hormone therapy is the most effective treatment for menopausal symptoms, but it is not suitable for all patients after cancer — where it is unsuitable, alternative effective non-hormonal treatments are available.
  • Effective pharmacological agents available to treat vasomotor symptoms include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin–noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, clonidine and gabapentin. There is increasing evidence supporting cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of vasomotor symptoms, in self-help or group settings.
  • Vaginal atrophy can be treated with vaginal (topical) oestrogen with minimal systemic absorption; topical vaginal lubricants may help with vaginal dryness and dyspareunia, with some evidence suggesting that silicone-based products may be more effective than water-based ones.
  • Bone health may be impaired in post-menopausal women with cancer or in cancer survivors, particularly in women with treatment-related menopause or in women receiving anti-oestrogen therapies; this should be managed in addition to menopausal symptoms.
  • Primary care physicians should be aware of the troublesome and ongoing nature of menopausal symptoms after cancer, should discuss them with all patients after cancer treatment, and should consider treatment or referral to a specialist for appropriate management.


  • Jennifer L Marino1,2
  • Helen C McNamara1
  • Martha Hickey1,2

  • 1 Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC


M Hickey is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Practitioner Fellowship.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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