Mood changes and sex hormones

There is evidence that a fall in oestrogen levels can cause mood changes in women. However we don't know if this drop is due to the menopause or cancer treatment.

Women going through a natural menopause are at higher risk of developing depression than before or after the menopause. Many women become depressed during the menopause.

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. Cancer can make you feel anxious, sad, stressed or irritable at times.

Hormone related mood changes can include:

  • feeling anxious, panicky and irritable
  • feeling very sad, which for some people can develop into depression
  • mood swings - one minute feeling fine and the next feeling low, panicky, and very irritable or tearful

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

You might be able to have hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to help control symptoms caused by low hormone levels.

But some treatments for breast 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.

Coping with mood changes

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you feel sad or anxious and are finding it difficult to cope.

Sadness and depression can be treated in different ways, including counselling and anti depressants.

There are also ways you can 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 – this can be difficult if you are feeling anxious or sad, 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. Cancer Chat is a safe space for you to talk, share your experiences, and find information and support.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

Last reviewed: 
20 Nov 2018
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    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2009

  • Menopausal symptoms in women treated for breast cancer: the prevalence and severity of symptoms and their perceived effects on quality of life
    P Gupta and others
    Climacteric. 2006 Feb;9(1):49-58

  • Associations of depression with the transition to menopause
    EW Freeman
    Menopause, 2010 Jul;17(4):823-7

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