Mood changes and sex hormones | Cancer Research UK
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Mood changes and sex hormones

This page tells you about sex hormone symptoms and mood changes. There is information about


Hormones and mood changes

Some cancer treatments lower the levels of sex hormones in the body. These include oestrogen and progesterone in women and testosterone in men. Low levels of sex hormones can sometimes cause mood changes.

The causes of mood changes can be difficult to assess because many factors affect mood, especially when you have cancer. It is not unusual for people with cancer to feel anxious, sad, stressed or irritable at times.

Hormone related mood changes may include feeling anxious, panicky and irritable. Or you may feel very sad, which for some people can develop into depression. Some people may have mood swings, such as one minute feeling fine and the next feeling low, panicky, and very irritable or tearful.

man talking to nurse

Not everyone who has hormone level changes has changes in mood. The mood changes may be temporary, until the hormone levels settle down. Or they may last for as long as you are having treatment.

Some people are able to have hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help control symptoms caused by low hormone levels. But some treatments for breast or prostate cancer aim to stop the body producing sex hormones or to block the action of the hormones. If you are having that kind of treatment, unfortunately you can’t take HRT to help control your symptoms.


Women, hormones and mood changes

There is evidence that a fall in oestrogen levels can cause mood changes in women. This applies whether the drop in levels is due to menopause or to cancer treatment. Women going through a natural menopause are at higher risk of developing depression than before or after the menopause. Around a quarter of women become depressed during the menopause.

In a survey asking women about menopausal symptoms after breast cancer, more than half said they felt depressed. About a third of them were taking anti depressants. Many of the women in the survey also had other physical problems that may add to feeling sad and depressed.


Men, hormones and mood changes

In men there is conflicting evidence about whether low testosterone levels have an impact on mood changes or not. Some trials show that men having hormone treatment are more likely to feel sad or depressed but other trials don’t.


Coping with mood changes

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel sad or anxious and are finding it difficult to cope. There are many different ways of treating sadness and depression, including counselling and anti depressants.

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself, such as

  • Eat well
  • Do relaxation or deep breathing exercises
  • Take regular exercise that you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or yoga
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Get enough sleep – if you are feeling anxious or sad this can be difficult but lack of sleep can make it harder to cope
  • Get help to control other symptoms – if you don’t feel well it can make coping with mood changes more difficult
  • Talk to other people about how you feel

You can also contact other people with similar experiences on Cancer Chat – our free online forum for people affected by cancer. It can be valuable to talk to people who have had similar experiences and find out how they have coped. Cancer Chat is a safe space for you to talk, share your experiences, and find information and support.

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Updated: 26 June 2015