Therapy combats breast cancer patients' menopause symptoms

6 Oct 2009

Breast cancer patients who suffer debilitating menopausal symptoms as a result of treatment can find relief by learning how to manage hot flushes, night sweats and lack of sleep through therapy.

Women who received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which included lessons in breathing, how to reduce stress and manage menopausal symptoms found their condition had improved significantly after three months.

The good news for women was announced on Monday by psychologists Dr Eleanor Mann and Professor Myra Hunter, of King’s College, London, in a presentation at the annual conference of the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) in Birmingham.

Two dozen women who had completed breast cancer treatment were given six 90 minute weekly sessions of CBT. Three months later they reported that troublesome symptoms were half as frequent as they had been and that there was an almost 60 per cent reduction in what symptoms they perceived as problems.

Professor Hunter told the NCRI conference: "After the therapy feelings of depression and anxiety lessened and emotional functioning and vitality improved. The women also felt less negative about hot flushes and night sweats.

"The results are very promising as significant improvements in the women were maintained at the three month follow up. Now we are working on a larger controlled trial, funded by Cancer Research UK, that will include physiological as well as subjective measures of hot flushes.

"Ultimately we hope to show that cognitive behavioural therapy given in groups might help women with troublesome menopausal symptoms that develop after breast cancer treatment."

Martin Ledwick, head of Cancer Research UK’s information nurses, said: “Breast cancer treatment can accelerate the menopause or result in older women suffering from debilitating symptoms.

"Getting hot flushes and night sweats is a double blow to women already coping with a cancer diagnosis and can lead to feelings of depression and helplessness. So it is very encouraging to learn that cognitive behavioural therapy might be able to give women a boost and help them cope though such a difficult time in their lives."

Source: National Cancer Research Institute