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Sarah Unwin


“I had a real fear of a surgical menopause so I ended up taking a low dose of HRT. I’ll keep taking it to a point until I’m ready to stop taking it. I’ll go through the menopause but it’ll be less immediate and full on.”

Women who go through menopause before the age of 45 years are often offered HRT. HRT can relieve symptoms and benefit long-term health by replacing some hormones. It may not be suitable for all women so should be discussed with your medical team. HRT is thought to:

  • prevent loss of bone strength
  • maintain a healthy heart
  • prevent cognitive decline in later life (eg memory).

After surgical menopause HRT is mostly given as one hormone (oestrogen therapy), however, women who still have a womb will need two hormones, oestrogen and progestogen. Both can be given via tablets, patches and gels.

What are the side effects?

You may not experience any, but side effects of HRT may occur in some women and can include breast tenderness, headaches and leg cramps. They usually improve with time. Occasionally a change in dose or type of oestrogen will be necessary and your doctor will work with you to find the most appropriate dose and type. You may need to try a couple before finding one that suits you.

What are the risks?

There has been a lot of research into HRT and its safety in general but not so much is known about the risks and the benefits after surgery for ovarian cancer. It is important to discuss the matter with your doctor and, if possible, get a referral to someone who specialises in dealing with women who are experiencing the menopause because of cancer treatment.

Depending on your situation, you may decide to use HRT on a short-term basis for symptoms relief, for a longer-term basis for its health benefits, or not at all.

Thinking about HRT - questions to discuss with your doctor

  • Which of my symptoms will HRT help?
  • What are the risks associated with using HRT?
  • Should I have a tablet, patch or gel?
  • How long will I need it for?
  • Is there anything else I might use instead?
  • What will happen if I choose not to use it?

Vaginal oestrogen

Vaginal oestrogen is given to treat vaginal changes after a surgical menopause and can be used alone or alongside conventional HRT. Vaginal oestrogen will not help other menopausal symptoms but is associated with fewer side effects and risks. It can be given via creams, vaginal tablets or vaginal rings, all of which are effective at reducing vaginal dryness and sexual discomfort.

Alternatives to HRT

Younger women's guide to ovarian cancerIf you choose not to use HRT or have a medical reason not to, other medications can be prescribed. Citalopram, paroxetine and venlafaxine are classed as antidepressant medicines but they have been found to help menopausal flushes and sweats when used at low doses. Clonidine is a blood pressure medicine that may help flushes. If later in life you experience bone density loss, you may be prescribed drugs to treat osteoporosis.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been proven to be a safe and effective treatment for women who experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats with additional benefits to mood, sleep and quality of life. The CBT Register UK allows you to search for a therapist in your area or you can ask your GP for a referral.

There are lots of herbal and dietary supplements aimed at helping with the menopause. The evidence is inconsistent so you may wish to ask a pharmacist for advice as these can interfere with other medicines; these remedies may also contain oestrogen. 

Find out more

For younger women

General information

This content is primarily taken from A younger woman's guide to ovarian cancer

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Our joint guide produced with Ovacome, Ovarian Cancer Action and The Eve Appeal, provides crucial information, advice and signposting to help younger women through the emotional, physical and psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis.   

The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.

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Last reviewed: June 2017
Next review: May 2020