Coping With Menopause
- “Twin Peaks” actress Naomi Watts, 55, started experiencing early onset of menopause when she was just 36 years old. The average age women go through the menopausal transition, which usually lasts approximately seven to 14 years, ranges between ages 45 and 55.
- The National Institute on Aging describes menopause as “a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period.” “The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause.”
- “The duration can depend on lifestyle factors such as smoking, age it begins, and race and ethnicity,” the institute explains.
- It’s important to remember to appreciate your body and embrace body positivity to help you cope during menopause.
- While menopause does not cause cancer, as women age, their risk of developing cancer rises, Dr. Therese Bevers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center explained to SurvivorNet.
“Twin Peaks” star Naomi Watts, 55, says she started experiencing symptoms of early menopause in her mid-30s. Admittedly, the experience was “not easy,” she says at such a young age. While menopause can be life-changing, it’s important for all women to know although their body may undergo some changes, their value, worth, and femininity doesn’t diminish.
As we acknowledge World Menopause Day, it’s worth pointing out there are tons of resources and support available to help you through it.Read More
“I went into, ‘Oh my God, I’m finished…I’m no longer sexy. I work in Hollywood,” she said.
Early menopause is a condition that causes the ovaries to stop working and menstrual periods to stop before a woman turns 40, the National Cancer Institute explains. It’s a transition that can lead to fertility issues and symptoms of menopause like Naomi Watts experienced.
“Menopause means different things to different people. The average experience begins with sleep disturbances, hot flashes, night sweats, and cessation of periods. The actual medical definition of menopause is more than twelve months of no periods,” Cedars-Sinai Medical Center OB/GYN and oncologist Dr. Bobbie J. Rimel explains to SurvivorNet.
The mother of one recounted having to become her “own best advocate” to get through the difficult “period of adjustment,” she told Hello Magazine during an interview.
“Going through this journey led me to a deeper understanding of myself, and I came out on the other side feeling more authentically me. A lot of freedom came in the self-acknowledgment,” she explained.
Thankfully, Watts received the support she needed to cope with the emotional transition in her life. Since this natural process impacts millions of women who are famous and less so, all need to know there are resources to help you through this stage of life.
World Menopause Day is held on October 18 every day. According to the International Menopause Society, its purpose is to “raise awareness of menopause and the support options available.”
Helping You With Body Positivity
The National Institute on Aging describes menopause as “a point in time 12 months after a woman’s last period.” “The years leading up to that point, when women may have changes in their monthly cycles, hot flashes, or other symptoms, are called the menopausal transition or perimenopause.”
The average age women go through the menopausal transition, which usually lasts approximately seven to 14 years, ranges between ages 45 and 55.
“The duration can depend on lifestyle factors such as smoking, age it begins, and race and ethnicity,” the institute explains. “The menopausal transition affects each woman uniquely and in various ways. The body begins to use energy differently, fat cells change, and women may gain weight more easily. You may experience changes in your bone or heart health, body shape and composition, or physical function.”
Common symptoms of menopause include:
- Hot flashes
- Painful sex
- Difficulty sleeping
How to Cope With Menopausal Symptoms
Dr. Therese Bevers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center says women facing menopause can undergo “small lifestyle changes” to reduce the impact of symptoms. Some tips that she offers include:
- Avoiding coffee before taking a morning shower
- Reduce stress
- Exercise regularly
- Get adequate sleep
- Quit smoking
- Avoid certain beverages that trigger hot flashes, such as coffee, tea, and alcohol.
Menopause and Possible Cancer Risks
While Dr. Bevers says, menopause does not cause cancer, as women age, their risk of developing cancer rises.
“Starting menopause after age 55 increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and endometrial cancer. That’s probably because she’s been exposed to more estrogen,” Dr. Bevers explains.
“During a woman’s menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the uterus and breast tissue. So, the more menstrual periods a woman has, the longer these tissues are exposed to estrogen.”
Dr. Bevers adds that women impacted by menopause at a later age may have an “increased risk of ovarian cancer” because they have had more ovulations.
“The same ways you reduce your cancer risk before menopause: exercise, eat a healthy diet, don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke, and maintain a healthy body weight,” Dr. Bevers adds.
“Research shows that gaining weight after menopause increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer, but losing weight after menopause can actually reduce your risk.”
Hormone Replacement Therapy to Management Menopause
To help women manage their menopausal symptoms, some doctors may prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which controls the levels of estrogen and progesterone in a woman’s body.
However, HRT does pose cancer risks if taken beyond recommended limits.
A 2019 analysis of 26 studies that include more than 4 million women found a correlation between HRT and ovarian cancer incidence for women in the United States and Europe.
The correlation was highest in two subtypes (epithelial-stromal and endometrioid ovarian tumors). However, the association couldn’t be reproduced in women in other parts of the world.
A 2017 study found that women on HRT had a 32% increased chance of developing serous borderline ovarian tumors. It’s also been determined that most types of HRT increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer.
It’s important to note that HRT is sometimes part of ovarian cancer treatment after a woman has removed her ovaries.
“There is actually some data that suggests improved survival with HRT given to ovarian cancer patients after diagnosis,” Dr. Rimel previously told SurvivorNet.
In 2012, a randomized control trial showed significantly improved survival in women with epithelial ovarian cancer who received HRT (estrogen) and standard cancer treatment.
However, routine hormone replacement therapy is also debated, as it minimizes the risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular problems, and sexual dysfunction. Still, the evidence is considered “too limited” to support it being used routinely.
How to Cope with Body Changes Amid Menopause
A woman’s body image is often critical to their overall identity. When menopause occurs, women need to embrace body positivity to help them cope with possible body changes.
WATCH: How to cope with body changes amid a health challenge.
Dr. Marianna Strongin, a New York-based licensed clinical psychologist, previously told SurvivorNet that it’s common for survivors to struggle with the physical part of their cancer journey, something women dealing with menopause can also relate to.
“Your body has changed and represents this difficult chapter in your life, and simply accepting all that is far too simple.
She suggests you sit with your body in front of the mirror and spend time looking at the parts you genuinely love.
“Give them time, honor them, and then thank them,” Strongin says.
Body image is about both the mental picture you have and how you feel when you look in the mirror, she says.