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Chemotherapy may cause ovarian failure leading to premature menopause, which is the end of menstruation. Ovarian failure may be temporary or permanent. Hot flashes (sensations of heat with redness, flushing and sometimes sweating) are a common and disturbing symptom of menopause. Talk to your doctor about menopause and what can be done to manage the symptoms.

Menopause is the end of menstruation. It is usually confirmed after 12 consecutive months have passed without a menstrual cycle. While this is the definition of menopause that your doctor uses, menopause is also understood in terms of the many physical changes that a woman experiences either before or after menstruation stops.

What causes menopause?

Menopause is a natural event in every woman’s life. For cancer patients, menopause can occur prematurely. Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, may cause premature menopause by damaging the ovaries and decreasing production of estrogen and other female hormones. These hormones regulate the menstrual cycle; without them, the body no longer releases eggs from the ovaries and the menstrual cycle stops.

Premature menopause as a result of cancer therapy usually comes on gradually and can be temporary or permanent. Return of ovarian function depends on the woman’s age before treatment and the type of chemotherapy drug used. Ovarian failure as a result of chemotherapy has been shown to benefit some women with localized breast cancer. Many studies have shown that young women with breast cancer who develop ovarian failure after chemotherapy have fewer recurrences than women who have permanent ovarian failure.[1]

What are the symptoms of menopause?

Symptoms of menopause vary from person to person. However, because premature menopause occurs more suddenly than natural menopause, symptoms may be more severe. Possible menopausal symptoms include:

  • Hot flashes (sensations of heat with redness, flushing and sometimes sweating)
  • Mood changes (mood swings, depression, irritability)
  • Sleep problems
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Urinary problems, including burning or pain when urinating, or leaking when sneezing, coughing or laughing
  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • Less interest in sex and changes in sexual response
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning or loss of hair

How is menopause managed?

Common approaches to managing the symptoms of menopause include hormone replacement therapy, prescription antidepressant drugs, soy, and the herb black cohosh.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT): Symptoms of menopause can be managed through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) with estrogens and progesterone. However, this may not be an option for patients with breast or endometrial (uterine) cancers because the hormones may stimulate cancer growth. Furthermore, HRT is associated with risks. Talk to your doctor about whether HRT could be an option for you.

Antidepressant medication: Medications for depression are a non-hormonal approach that may be beneficial for some women. A clinical trial has demonstrated that the antidepressant venlafaxine (Effexor®) can suppress hot flashes. The study involved 222 women who tracked the number of hot flashes they had while taking venlafaxine. Women who took 75 milligrams (mg) a day had a 61% reduction in the number of hot flashes they experienced.[2] Fluoxetine (Prozac®) may also provide relief for some women.

Soy: Soy products may provide some relief. Soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which are estrogens found in plants. Isoflavones are one kind of phytoestrogen and are plentiful in whole-soy foods. These compounds behave like weak forms of your body’s own estrogen.

Black cohosh: The herb black cohosh is approved in Germany for the treatment of hot flashes. It has been used to relieve some symptoms of menopause. However, since this herb has estrogen-like properties, its safety in patients with breast cancer has not been confirmed. Also, preliminary laboratory results suggest that black cohosh may increased the potency of certain chemotherapy drugs, including doxorubicin (Adriamycin®) and docetaxel (Taxotere®). Remember to tell your cancer doctor about any medication or alternative medicine treatments that you are taking.

What can I do to manage the symptoms of menopause?

Remember to talk to your doctor about any symptoms or side effects of cancer treatment that you are concerned about. Also, try these tips for managing symptoms of menopause:

  • Limit spicy food, alcohol and caffeine, all of which can trigger hot flashes.
  • Use a water soluble lubricant such as KY Jelly to relieve vaginal dryness.
  • Exercise daily to relieve emotional symptoms.



Secondary Cancer:


Secondary malignancies are cancers caused by treatment with radiation or chemotherapy. They are unrelated to the first cancer that was treated, and may occur months or even years after initial treatment. Some treatments increase the risk of developing a second cancer, such as the chemotherapy drugs etoposide, radiation therapy for some lymphomas and childhood leukemia, and treatment with both radiation therapy and chemotherapy together. Preventing secondary malignancies involves avoiding these treatments that clearly increase the risk of second cancers and ensuring you do not receive too much treatment for your particular disease or risk factors.

What are secondary malignancies?

A secondary malignancy is a new cancer that occurs in an individual as a result of previous treatment with radiation or chemotherapy. Secondary cancers may occur months or years after treatment and are a consequence or side effect of the initial cancer treatment. For example, a patient with breast cancer or Hodgkin’s disease may develop acute leukemia years after completion of treatment for their first cancer. Many of the secondary cancers are skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, which can be treated easily. Others, however, are more serious and can be fatal, such as acute leukemia.

What causes secondary cancers?

In addition to treating cancer, chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy are also carcinogenic, which means they can cause cancer. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells by disrupting cell division. However, normal cells are also affected, especially if the dose is too high or if certain drugs are used. For example, etoposide is associated with an increased risk of acute leukemia compared to other chemotherapy drugs. Furthermore, secondary cancers are more frequent in patients who receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy compared to either treatment alone.

Secondary cancers after Hodgkin’s disease: The cure rate for Hodgkin’s disease is high but there is a risk of developing secondary malignancies. Hodgkin’s disease was one of the first cancers to be cured by chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Information collected about long-term survivors provides insight into the causes of second cancers. Patients with Hodgkin’s disease are usually treated with combination chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy. Combination chemotherapy usually includes:

  • Alkylating agents (nitrogen mustard, cyclophosphamide, procarbazine)
  • Vinca alkaloids (vincristine, vinblastine)
  • Anthracyclines (doxorubicin)
  • Bleomycin
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone, dexamethasone)

These agents are all capable of causing secondary cancers, but not to the same degree.

Researchers have found that, compared to the normal population, patients with Hodgkin’s disease are more likely to die from second cancers.   Evaluation of long-term complications in over 1,000 patients with Hodgkin’s disease revealed that these patients had a 7-fold increase in death from causes other than Hodgkin’s disease compared to the normal population. The specific risk of dying from a second cancer was increased 6 times compared to the normal population. In patients treated when they were younger than 21 years of age, the risk was even greater with a 14-fold increase in death from a second cancer. The risk of second cancers was the greatest in those patients who required the most treatment.

The most common second cancers that developed after treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, in order of incidence, were:

  • Breast
  • Thyroid
  • Bone
  • Colorectal
  • Lung
  • Stomach

The risk of developing any second cancer was 10% at 20 years and 26% at 30 years. The younger the patient at the time of initial treatment and the use of radiation therapy were the most important factors for developing these cancers after Hodgkin’s disease treatment.

Researchers have also determined that patients with Hodgkin’s disease have a greater risk of developing acute leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) after treatment. They found that NHL occurred in approximately 1% of over 5,000 patients treated for Hodgkin’s disease.

In one study, extended follow-up of patients with Hodgkin’s disease has revealed an increased risk of breast cancer. These researchers showed that the high risk of breast cancer after Hodgkin’s disease is related to treatment at a young age with mantle radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Breast cancers in this context differ from sporadic disease because they develop in younger women, are associated with a higher rate of disease in both breasts, and are generally located near the midline of the body.

The risk of breast cancer is lower in patients who receive newer, combined modality treatments for Hodgkin’s disease, and the focus of current research is on which cancer causing drugs can be eliminated from the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease without reducing cure rates.

Secondary cancers after breast cancer: The majority of women with localized early stage breast cancer are cured following treatment with:

  • Anthracyclines (doxorubicin, epirubicin, mitoxantrone)
  • Alkylating agents (cyclophosphamide)
  • Antimetabolites (5-FU, methotrexate)
  • Taxanes (Taxol®, Taxotere®)

For patients who received a doxorubicin-based regimen, the rate of second cancers at 10 years was 3.8% and at 15 years it was 7%. The rate of second cancers was 3.4% in patients receiving radiation therapy and 4.7% in patients who did not receive radiation therapy, suggesting that radiation may not increase second cancers in this setting.

Secondary cancers after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL): The most common treatment regimen for patients with NHL is the combination of cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone (CHOP). This regimen has been responsible for the cure of a significant number of patients with NHL over the past 3 decades. Researchers have reported that 2.75% of patients developed secondary cancers following treatment with CHOP.  Compared to a similar population of patients without NHL, this did not represent a significant increase.

Secondary cancers after acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL): More than 80% of children with ALL are cured with current treatments and are at risk of developing secondary cancers. Treatment with radiation therapy appears to increase the risk of developing a second cancer. In an evaluation of 800 children who had survived at least 10 years after treatment for ALL, researchers concluded that there was no increased risk of second cancer in non-irradiated patients but that those treated with radiation appeared to have a 20-fold increase compared to the general population. The researchers observed 44 secondary cancers of which 41 were related to radiation therapy. Most of these cancers were classified as benign or of low malignant potential.

Secondary cancers after testicular cancer: Patients with testicular cancers are usually treated with the combination of cisplatin, etoposide and bleomycin (PEB) chemotherapy. Long-term complications from PEB chemotherapy include secondary cancers. Both etoposide and cisplatin increase the risk for developing leukemia in patients with testicular cancer. Furthermore, this risk appears to be related to the total dose of etoposide given. Patients with testicular cancer who are treated with a combination of radiation therapy plus chemotherapy are at the greatest risk of secondary cancers.

What are the symptoms of secondary cancer?

The most frequent site for a second cancer is the skin and is usually of the basal cell or squamous cell variety. These cancers are both slow-growing and they rarely spread. They are usually easy to detect and can be cured with surgery. If you develop any irregularities in your skin, notify your doctor immediately. Secondary cancers that occur in other organs will have symptoms specific to that part of your body. Report any unusual symptoms to your doctor.

How can secondary cancers be prevented?

Define the risk of recurrence and tailor the intensity of cancer therapy: Over the past decade there has been great progress in defining risk groups for various cancers. The importance of defining risk groups is that less treatment can be given to those who have a low risk of recurrence of cancer with standard treatments and more treatment can be given to those at high risk. Lowering the dose of treatment for low risk groups is probably the most important way to prevent secondary cancers since these cancers occur more often in intensively treated patients.

Avoid radiation therapy: Another way to decrease the incidence of second cancers is to avoid radiation therapy. This has been successful in childhood ALL where intrathecal (into the spinal fluid) chemotherapy has been substituted for radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is also being used less in the treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma where certain groups of patients have been found to survive just as well with chemotherapy alone as with chemotherapy plus radiation therapy.

Avoid drugs with high carcinogenic potential: This is difficult to do since all chemotherapy drugs are carcinogenic. However, etoposide is associated with a relatively high incidence of myelodysplasia and acute myeloid leukemia and in some instances other drugs could be used instead.

How are second cancers treated?

The most important aspect of treatment of secondary cancer is early diagnosis. It is important to understand that you are not only at risk of a recurrence of your primary cancer but at risk of a secondary cancer. Be sure you are receiving good preventive care and participate in all the cancer screening programs available.

For example, women with Hodgkin’s disease should begin mammography screening at an earlier age than the general population and this should be done annually for life. Also, men and women who are cancer survivors should undergo screening for bowel cancer at an earlier age than the general population and also continue it for life.

Usually, cancers of a certain type are treated the same regardless of whether they are primary or secondary. However, in the case of acute leukemia the response rates are lower than for patients who develop the same abnormality without a prior history of cancer. Thus, these patients are immediate candidates for treatments such as stem cell transplants.






Chemotherapy commonly causes damage to the sex organs. In women, damage to the ovaries causes reproductive problems, or infertility, and premature menopause in some. In men, damage to the testes, the organs that produce sperm, results in sterility. Some men regain their ability to reproduce, however recovery is very slow. Others have permanent sterility. There is no treatment for sterility. If you think you may want to have children in the future and your treatment is likely to damage sperm production, you may wish to bank, or store sperm.

What is sterility?

Sterility is an inability of a man to fertilize an egg, or reproduce.

What causes sterility?

Sterility is caused by poor function or failure of the testes, the male sex organs that produce sperm. Damage to the testes from radiation or chemotherapy is a common cause of sterility among cancer patients. Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs that destroy cells that grow rapidly, a characteristic of cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy also affects normal cells that grow rapidly, such as blood cells in the bone marrow, cells in the hair follicles, and the cells that generate sperm in the testes.

Following cancer chemotherapy most men develop low levels of sperm (oligospermia) or no sperm (azoospermia). In addition the cells in the testes that produce testosterone, called Leydig cells, may also be affected by chemotherapy, resulting in low or lack of testosterone production. These conditions may persist for long periods of time and may be permanent.

The effect of chemotherapy on the testes depends on the type of drug, dose, and schedule of treatment. Some chemotherapy drugs are more likely to cause sterility, while there tends to be a much lesser degrees of long-term toxicity with the newer forms of chemotherapy. The classes of chemotherapy drugs that are more likely to cause sterility are:

Alkylating agents: The alkylating agents (nitrogen mustard, cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil, busulfan, procarbazine) are a major cause of late-testicular toxicity. Long-term infertility due to treatment with alkylating agents may be expected in more than 50% of the patients at a cumulative dose of cyclophosphamide greater that 6 g/m2, and procarbazine greater than 4 g/m2.   Procarbazine-containing regimens (MOPP/ABVD) result in azoospermia in the vast majority of patients.

Platinum compounds: Platinum compounds (cisplatin, carboplatin and oxaliplatin) are a major cause of damage to the testes. Long-term infertility due to therapy may be expected in more than 50% of the patients who receive a cumulative dose of cisplatin (Platinol®) greater than 0.6 g/m2.

Radiotherapy has by far the most damaging effect on reproductive ability by affecting both the part of the brain that contributes to testosterone levels as well as the testes. The harmful effect of irradiation depends on the total dose of radiation, the area irradiated, as well as the number and size of fractions (treatments) given.

Which patients are more likely to experience long-term sterility?

Age is a major factor that contributes whether a patient will recover reproductive function. Older patients are more likely to experience long-term sterility. Also, patients that undergo chemotherapy treatment for testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, and childhood lymphomas are likely to experience long-term sterility. Men treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) may also experience some damage, but appear to recover their reproductive function.

Testicular cancer: Testicular cancer now has a cure rate of more than 80% with combination chemotherapy composed of cisplatin (Platinol®), etoposide, and bleomycin (Blenoxane®) (PEB). However, approximately 25% of patients have azoospermia (no sperm) for 2-5 years or more after treatment.

Additional research with survivors of testicular cancer reveal conflicting results regarding the impact of treatment on reproductive ability. While one study shows that 68% do exhibit testicular dysfunction, another study showed that release of hormones from the brain compensates for the loss of testosterone production in the testes.  Therefore, response to treatment seems to vary between individuals.

Hodgkin’s disease: Many men with Hodgkin’s disease have testicular deficiencies prior to treatment. Researchers have found that 8% of patients had azoospermia (no sperm) and only 30% had normal sperm counts. Thus, 70% showed semen abnormalities before the onset of treatment.   Additionally, patients with Hodgkin’s disease are treated with procarbazine-containing chemotherapy regimens that cause sterility in the vast majority.2 These regimens include: MOPP (nitrogen mustard, vincristine, prednisone) or ABVD (doxorubicin, bleomycin, vincristine, and dexamethasone.)

Survivors of Hodgkin’s disease typically progress through puberty normally. While some will have long-term testicular dysfunction as measured by LH and FSH levels, many will not experience this side effect of treatment.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL): Small studies have suggested that impairment of reproductive function occurs in most males receiving treatment for ALL, but almost all recover function after successful treatment.

How is testicular damage diagnosed?

Decreased production of testosterone in the Lydig cells of the testes stimulates a part of the brain called the pituitary gland to produce two hormones: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutinizing hormone (LH). A common way to diagnose damage to the testes is to measure FSH and LH in the blood. Elevated levels of these two hormones indicate that testicular damage has occurred.

What are the symptoms of sterility?

In addition to infertility, some men may also experience loss of libido and potency. However, there does not appear to be any major systemic effect of testicular failure on general health that is comparable to premature menopause in women.

How is sterility managed?

While there are no treatments for sterility, for some patients planning ahead can help deal with the possibility of not recovering function. If a treatment is likely to damage your sperm production and you think you may want to have children later, you may wish to “bank” some of your sperm before undergoing treatment.


Cardiac Dysfuction:

Some chemotherapies, speficially anthracyclines and Herceptin may be damaging to your heart muscles and cause heart failure in the long run.   Please inform your doctor if you experience any unexplained new shortness of breath or lower extremity swelling.