Mood changes and sex hormones in women

Some cancer treatments lower the levels of sex hormones in the body. Low levels of sex hormones can sometimes cause mood changes.

Hormones and mood changes

Hormones are natural substances made by the glands of our hormone (endocrine) system. They are carried around our body in our bloodstream.

The main male sex hormone is testosterone. The main female sex hormones are oestrogen and progesterone.

There is evidence that a fall in oestrogen levels can cause mood changes. This could be due to the cancer treatment, the menopause Open a glossary item, or both. 

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)

One way to help control hormonal symptoms is to take hormones to replace the ones your body is no longer producing. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) Open a glossary item is an effective treatment for many women. But some treatments for breast cancer aim to either stop the body producing sex hormones, or block their action. If you are having these treatments, you can’t unfortunately take HRT.

Doctors don’t routinely recommend that you take HRT if you have a hormone dependent Open a glossary item cancer, such as breast cancer. Even if you have finished treatment there is concern that HRT may increase the risk of cancer coming back. Talk to your specialist if you are finding it difficult to cope with your symptoms. They can explain the risks and benefits of HRT and if this is an option for you.

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

It can help to talk to people about how you feel. Sometimes the idea of talking about your treatment and feelings can be difficult. But speaking to your family and friends can often help you cope.

You can 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.

You can also call our nurse freephone helpline for information about support on 0808 800 4040. They are available from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Or you can send them a question online. 

  • The impact of medication side effects on adherence and persistence to hormone therapy in breast cancer survivors: A quantitative systematic review

    L Fleming and others

    The Breast, 2022. Volume 64, Pages 63–84

  • Hormone replacement therapy after surgery for epithelial ovarian cancer

    N Saeaib and others

    Cochrane Library, 2020

  • Managing menopausal symptoms after cancer
    R A Szabo and others
    Climacteric, 2019. Volume 22, Issue 6

  • Depression in adults with a chronic physical health problem: recognition and management
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), October 2009

Last reviewed: 
29 Sep 2022
Next review due: 
29 Sep 2025

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