The headlines have certainly been attention grabbing. “New medical procedure could delay menopause by 20 years” said The Guardian. The Daily Mail proclaimed that “doctors halt the menopause”. For those of us faced with the challenging symptoms of these midlife years, the stories were essential reading.
If you’ve looked beyond the headlines, however, it’s a different story. This treatment to delay menopause isn’t for anyone who’s already having menopausal symptoms. In fact, it’s recommended you have this procedure in your 20s or 30s, when your ovaries are functioning well: 40 is the cut-off age.
Also, it is a procedure, not a pill. It involves keyhole surgery to remove a sliver of ovarian tissue. This is then frozen until you start to experience menopausal symptoms. When this sliver is put back into your body, it starts to produce oestrogen again, so delaying menopause symptoms.
Not quite what it seems
What may at first have seemed like a miracle to delay menopause, may not be quite so much of one.
This is a treatment in its infancy for the menopause, says Dr Stephanie Goodwin, one of Hylda’s team of medical experts. “So far, the treatment has mainly been used for younger women with cancer to preserve their ovarian function, because chemotherapy can shut down the function of the ovaries.”
Dr Goodwin, who a GP and menopause specialist with a clinic in London, explains further. “After chemotherapy, the ovarian tissue is put back in so the women still have their cycle,” she says. “They don’t go into early menopause and possibly still have their fertility, too.”
Just like when any advance in fertility or gynaecological medicine first emerges – the Pill, IVF, egg freezing and even HRT – there have been fierce debates. Is it right to change the natural course of a woman’s life, to delay the menopause? Should we instead welcome the menopause as freedom? Are we medicalising a natural stage of a woman’s life?
But even if you wanted to have the treatment, the real issue for most of us is price. Like egg freezing, this is a procedure that costs thousands of pounds. It will only be available to the few.
There’s another issue, too. Despite the fact that the procedure is being marketed as a way to delay menopausal symptoms, commentators have pointed out that the company offering it is called Pro Fam. And it makes sense – given what the technology can do for women with cancer – that eventually it will be marketed to extend fertility into the menopausal years, alongside or instead of egg freezing.
Is this treatment for you?
Is it worth considering right now? Some women might want to, says Dr Goodwin. “I think for certain women it will be extremely useful,” she says. “If I was 30 maybe I’d think about it – if I was in a position to afford it. But only if I had a family history of POI (premature ovarian insufficiency), or I was about to have a surgically or medically induced menopause. But as a mainstream treatment for the menopause? It’s not going to be for everybody.”
For most of us, says Dr Goodwin, conventional HRT is a better option, as it works extremely well and is inexpensive. It even has advantages. “As women get older, we can reduce the dose of oestrogen. You can’t do that with a slice of ovary,” says Dr Goodwin. “And you can take HRT for the rest of your life – can you keep transplanting slices of ovary?”
Most of all, she says, “the impact of this news highlights, yet again, the lack of information that women and GPs have about the use of HRT for managing menopausal symptoms and so improving the quality of life for women.”
You’ll find more doctors’ advice on evidence-based ways to deal with your perimenopause and menopause symptoms, including everything you need to know about HRT, in the Medical section of our site.