Former ITV presenter, journalist and Yorkshire Businesswoman ambassador, Christine Talbot, joined experts and people with cancer recently at cancer support charity, Maggie’s Yorkshire, to talk about how more support is needed for people experiencing early-onset ‘crash’ menopause as a side effect of cancer treatment.
The charity recently conducted research which revealed that menopause comes as a shock to nearly a third (30%) of people who experience early onset menopause caused by cancer treatment, and many found the symptoms of menopause worse than the cancer treatment itself.
Joining Christine on the panel were cancer and menopause experts, Dr Angela Wright, a GP and Sexologist for the NHS and Spiced Pear Health, and Helen Nicholson, Cancer Support Specialist at Maggie’s Yorkshire, as well as women who have experienced treatment induced menopause themselves. Christine shared her own personal experience of treatment-induced menopause revealing that she felt completely unprepared for it and the medical specialists she turned to at that time seemed at a loss how to help when she asked for support.
The survey*, of people who have attended the charity’s menopause workshops, also found that nearly three quarters (73%) of those that were told were given little to no information about early onset menopause. Over half (54%) said that the information they received was just a conversation with a healthcare professional but 78% said they would have preferred more than one form of information.
Christine said: “The menopause is already an incredibly difficult thing for women to go through; being thrown into it 10 or 20 years earlier than you were expecting, on top of your cancer treatment, is completely overwhelming. I have experienced a treatment-induced menopause myself and felt completely unprepared for it. We need to make sure that women and people are getting the information and support they need to be able to cope with this.”
Jess Henshall, 35, a school teacher from Leeds, was diagnosed with triple positive breast cancer in May this year - just three months before she got married to Ben.
Jess’s cancer proved to be HER2 positive. This meant it was an oestrogen positive cancer and that prior to having chemotherapy and a lumpectomy to remove her tumour, Jess had to have a procedure to freeze her eggs to preserve the chances of the young couple having a family in the future.
She was then put on ovarian suppression injections and this is what put Jess firmly into treatment induced menopause.
Jess said: “The worst menopause symptoms for me have been the hot flushes which began the minute I started ovarian suppression injections to halt oestrogen production.
“I feel lucky that I’ve been able to access the menopause workshops at Maggie’s. The CBT sessions have really helped me to handle hot flushes much better. I think just understanding why they happen has allowed me to deal with them and let them pass without feeling like I’m going into a panic.
“I also feel more confident about telling people that’s what I’m going through. Some people I know will say they are going through menopause too, but they are going through it naturally and do not realise that that is nothing like having your hormones switched off and crashing into menopause headfirst. Because my cancer was oestrogen positive, I’m also not allowed HRT to help with my symptoms.
“I know I’ll be given a break from my hormone injections in 2025 for two years to allow me to try for a baby and that’s definitely something that Ben and I would like to do.
“The best thing about the Maggie’s workshops has been meeting other young people going through crash menopause like me. It really does come as a shock to the system especially when you’re already going through cancer treatment.”
To help people impacted by treatment induced menopause, Maggie's runs menopause workshops. These have been developed by Dr Angela Wright and Dr Angela Sharma of Spiced Pear Health alongside Maggie's Cambridge Centre Head, Lisa Punt, who has a special interest in treatment induced menopause.
Dr Angela Wright, GP and Sexologist, said: “As a menopause doctor, I am so aware of the gap in care this exists for women and people who have been pushed into an induced menopause by cancer treatment. The symptoms are known to be more severe, and of course, it all happens on top of everything else they have already been through with cancer.
“Dr Angela Sharma and I have been delighted to collaborate with Maggie’s to develop these safe spaces where people can get support and information about what is happening in their bodies, minds, and relationships, and what can be done to help.
“We will continue to work with Maggie’s to extend and develop more support for women and people experiencing a treatment-induced menopause and make sure they are getting the best possible support to cope with this.
Helen Nicholson, Cancer Support Specialist at Maggie’s Yorkshire, said: “It was great to have Christine join us today in the centre to help us raise awareness of this ‘crash’ menopause caused by cancer treatment. We were delighted that so many of our colleagues from the NHS as well as local people living with cancer were able to attend and hear such an insightful discussion.
“Many of the people who attend our CBT or Menopause Workshops don’t realise that they will experience menopause because of their treatment, perhaps because they weren’t told or didn’t take in the information as they were so focused on their cancer diagnosis. The emotional impact on these young people, who are often a long way away from a natural menopause, is enormous, and the side effects can impact on long term health, intimacy and relationships. It is a huge issue for so many, but we can help.
Maggie’s has been running menopause workshops online and at some of its centres across the UK for four years after noticing that many people were talking to Maggie’s staff about how challenging they were finding the symptoms of treatment induced early onset menopause alongside their cancer treatment.
Maggie’s Yorkshire runs menopause workshops for people with cancer going through menopause. For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0113 4578364.