Menopause does not cause cancer, but the risk of developing cancer increases as a woman ages. Therefore, women who have been through menopause are more likely to develop cancer because they are older.
Menopause occurs when a woman‘s ovaries stop releasing eggs. During menopause, a woman's body makes less of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, causing irregular menstrual periods that eventually stop.
A woman who experiences menopause after age 55 has an increased risk of ovarian, breast, and uterine (womb) cancers. The risk is greater if a woman also began menstruating before age 12. This is because a woman who menstruates longer than normal, during her lifetime, is exposed to more oestrogen. Oestrogen, when not balanced by another hormone, progesterone, can spur growth of the uterus lining, which increases the risk of uterine cancer
A longer exposure to oestrogen increases a woman's risk of uterine and breast cancers, and having more ovulation than normal increases a woman‘s risk of ovarian cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of womb cancer.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with oestrogen alone is a consideration only for women who have had a hysterectomy.
About ovarian cancer
Ovarian cysts are fluid ﬁlled sacs that develop on the ovary. They are very common, and most women do not even know that they have had them.
When a cyst is enlarged, it is termed a pathological cyst, and is a result of abnormal cells. These types of cysts are very rare. Occasionally they can be cancerous, but most of the time they are benign (non cancerous). Pathological cysts can cause symptoms that are very similar to that of ovarian cancer, and may require surgery to remove the cyst.
Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose. Presentation of symptoms can be non-specific abdominal symptoms.
If any of the following symptoms occur on more than 12 days a month, they could indicate ovarian cancer.
- Persistent pelvic / abdominal pain
- Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating - not bloating that comes and goes
- Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms
- Changes in bowel habit
- Extreme tiredness
The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age and after the menopause (most cases occur in women over the age of 50, although it can occur in women from late teens onwards).
If you are concerned about ovarian or uterine cancer, do seek advice from your healthcare professional.