Breast Cancer and Menopause: What’s the Link? 6 Risks and Symptoms

Last updated 01.16.2024 | by Sabrina Johnson | 9 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Before I discuss the relationship between menopause and breast cancer, I would like to present some facts. Breast cancer is one of the world’s most common cancers, accounting for around 12.5% of the cases occurring globally. If you only knew breast cancer as a woman’s disease, you are mistaken. Men may have breast cancer as well. However, that’s rare.

Only one of 100 diagnosed breast cancer cases occurs in men. Improved detection, prompt treatment, and increased awareness have helped raise the survival rates over the years.

Now, let’s get to the topic. What’s the link between breast cancer and menopause? Does breast cancer worsen with menopause? What about the other way around? Does menopause increase breast cancer risks? If you know someone who had breast cancer post the menopausal phase, it will surely leave you worried as well.

If you are nearing the menopausal age, you may want to know if menopause is responsible for breast cancer or not. It may even strike you if breast cancer brings in menopause or not. My article answers all of your questions effectively. I have touched on important aspects, like the connection between menopause and breast cancer. I have also highlighted points like the role of hormone therapy in breast cancer, the symptoms of breast cancer, and the risk factors as well. Read on to know more.

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.

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). This will help your doctor decide if you are eligible for HRT. When you choose an appropriate hormone therapy and get it in the correct dosage, then there are fewer chances of side effects. That’s why seeking a healthcare provider’s consultation before opting for it is essential.

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. This happened to a friend’s daughter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 30. Her periods stopped for good. 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.

  1. 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%
  2. 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.
  3. 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. Someone I knew was first diagnosed with cancer in her right breast, which was managed. Later, after three years, her left breast was affected.
  4. Women whose menses began quite early, before 12, or those who had their menopause late, after 55, are also at risk.
  5. Those who are overweight, have never had kids, or had their firstborn after 30 are also susceptible to breast cancer.
  6. 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

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

FAQ’s

Are there ways to prevent breast cancer?

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.

How is breast cancer diagnosed?

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.

Does breast cancer become less aggressive in the postmenopause stage?

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.

Conclusion

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. That’s what my doctor suggested to me also. This helps to screen breast cancer. So, make sure to do the utmost to remain healthy.

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.

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