Breast cancer makes it to the list of the most typical cancers alongside colon, lung, prostate, and rectum cancers. This type of cancer affects the breast cells. Though primarily prevalent in women, males may have breast cancer as well, though it is less common. Over the years, with increased awareness and improved treatment procedures, there has been a marked increase in the survival rate of breast cancer.
Now, coming to the topic – does menopause trigger breast cancer, or does breast cancer lead women to go into early menopause? What is the link between the two? Let us take a look. We will also know of the risks of breast cancer and even the symptoms associated with it.
Menopause and Breast Cancer – How are They Connected?
Menopause doesn’t directly increase the risk of cancer. However, the occurrence of breast cancer, alongside endometrial and other cancers, grows as a woman gets older. Additionally, there are certain medications used for managing menopausal symptoms that aggravate or lessen the risk of women being affected by cancer.
So, when talking about menopause and the associated treatment procedures, we ought not to miss the effect of HRT (hormone replacement therapy on breast cancer).
Does HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) Increase Breast Cancer Risks?
HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, is said to be one of the treatment methods opted for by many healthcare professionals to boost the hormone levels that decline during menopause.
In this way, it could help women find relief from several menopausal symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, night sweats, mood swings, dry skin, etc. In HRT, doctors may either opt for estrogen therapy, where only estrogen is provided. The other option is EPT , an estrogen-progesterone combination.
HRT comes with its sets of boons and banes. Studies have shown that women who have gotten more prolonged exposure to female hormones, either made naturally by their body or given through an external source, such as a drug or a patch, are at a greater risk of developing breast cancer.
Besides highlighting the increased risk of breast cancer with hormone therapy, a study  even deduced that those on the combined therapy (estrogen-progesterone) were at a greater risk than those who took only estrogen therapy.
Studies have even shown that HRT could even be responsible for ovarian and endometrial cancer. So, when you go for HRT, it is always important to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. You should even inform the doctor of your overall health and any underlying conditions you may suffer from (if any). In this way, it will help your doctor to decide if you are eligible for HRT or not.
Can Breast Cancer Bring in Menopause?
As mentioned already, breast cancer mainly occurs after 50. So, it is pretty evident that those diagnosed with breast cancer, in most cases, will have already experienced menopause.
However, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer before 40, she might likely experience early menopause mainly due to the treatment procedures. If menopause is brought about by chemotherapy or medicines, then it is referred to as medical menopause.
Chemotherapy has an impact on the ovary, stopping its function. When the ovaries do not function, they won’t produce eggs. This causes your menstrual cycle to pause.
It could be temporary, and your ovaries may be back in action again in about 8 months – 2 years after the completion of chemotherapy. However, as per studies, women going through temporary menopause may experience early menopause over others.
However, sometimes menopause caused by chemotherapy may be a permanent phenomenon. Your periods may not return. This depends on the age. As per studies, around 0 to 40% of females below 40 went through permanent menopause after undergoing chemotherapy. Whereas, in women above 40, the percentage was higher, 70-90%.
Not all chemotherapy treatments lead to menopause. So, when diagnosed with breast cancer and if scheduled for chemotherapy, it is advisable to ask your doctor about the impact of the treatment on your menstrual cycles.
Sometimes, women who are still having their periods during chemotherapy might be experiencing perimenopausal-like symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, etc.
6 Risk Factors Contributing to Breast Cancer
Certain factors play a pivotal role in increasing breast cancer risks. However, it doesn’t mean that a woman with several risk factors will always be affected by breast cancer. Likewise, it also doesn’t mean that those who don’t fall under the risk factors are safe from developing breast cancer. It can happen to any woman. Yet, it is essential to know of the triggers that increase the susceptibility to breast cancer.
- Age is one of the critical factors in breast cancer. The diagnosis of most breast cancers happens in women aged 50 and above. Women in their 40s are also at risk of developing breast cancer. Women below 40 may also be affected with breast cancer – but that accounts for not more than 40% of the cases. Data taken from 117 studies highlighted that from the year a woman entered into menopause, with every passing year, her risk of getting affected by breast cancer increased by 3%
- Women could also be at greater risk if breast cancer runs in their family. It could be their sister, mother, or even daughter. The risks are specifically high if their kin had breast cancer at a younger age. For instance, a woman could be more susceptible if her mother experienced breast cancer when she was 30 or 35.
- If a woman has had cancer in one of her breasts, chances could be that it could recur with time. She might even develop cancer in her other breast later.
- Women whose menses began quite early, before 12, or those who had their menopause late, after 55, are also at risk.
- Those who are overweight, have never had kids, or had their firstborn after 30 are also susceptible to breast cancer.
- Women who have genetic abnormalities  and have inherited genetic mutations such as the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 have an increased chance of being affected with breast or ovary cancer.
With age being one of the factors in triggering breast cancer, it puts menopausal women at an increased risk of the same.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer
Be it in the premenopausal, perimenopausal, or menopausal stage, whenever you notice any abnormality or changes in the color and texture of your breast, contact your doctor immediately. Here are some of the symptoms of breast cancer that indicate a red flag when you have any one of them or a combination of many.
- A lump on the underarm or breast that stays persistently
- Swelling on a specific area of the breast or throughout (with or without the lump)
- Changes in the breasts, size, appearance, or shape (for instance, one breast may appear larger and heavier than the other)
- Pain in the nipple or an inverted nipple
- Red or pitted skin on the area surrounding your breast
- Bloody discharge from nipples
You might belong to the list of those at risk of breast cancer. For instance, there’ve been several incidences in your family, or you are over 50.
Yet, by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you could lessen your risk of being affected by breast cancer. Eat healthy, and include about five servings of veggies and fruits in your diet each day. Cut down on red meat and processed meat; exercise regularly for about 30 minutes at least five times a week. Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, and quit smoking.
Early diagnosis of breast cancer prevents it from spreading all over your body and increases the survival rate. Your doctor would physically examine your breasts and may even opt for diagnostic tests like mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and breast MRIs. The doctor sometimes may also go for a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis.
When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer in the premenopause stage, she might experience a more aggressive form of the disease in comparison to older women who have crossed the menopause stage.
True that with age, you get more prone to breast cancer. But it’s not that every woman in their postmenopause stage will go through the disease. By being more vigilant and taking good care of yourself, you could definitely make yourself less susceptible to breast cancer.
You know your body the best. So, whenever you experience the slightest change that doesn’t seem normal, never neglect it. Talk to the doctor instantly. The ACS (American Cancer Society) advises all women to undergo mammograms yearly once they are 45 or older, even if they don’t experience any symptoms. This helps to screen breast cancer. So, make sure to do the utmost to remain healthy.