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Cancer treatment: dealing with hot flashes and night sweats

Certain types of cancer treatments can cause hot flashes and night sweats. Hot flashes are when your body suddenly feels hot. In some cases, hot flashes can make you sweat. Night sweats are hot flashes with sweating at night.

Hot flashes and night sweats are more common in women, but they can also occur in men. Some people continue to have these side effects after cancer treatment.

Hot flashes and night sweats can be unpleasant, but there are treatments that can help.

Causes

People who are treated for breast cancer or prostate cancer are likely to have hot flashes and night sweats during or after treatment.

In women, some cancer treatments can cause you to go into early menopause. Hot flashes and night sweats are common symptoms of menopause. These treatments include some types of:

  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone treatment
  • Surgery to remove your ovaries

In men, surgery to remove one or both testicles or treatment with certain hormones can cause these symptoms.

Hot flashes and night sweats also may be caused by some medicines:

  • Aromatase inhibitors. Used as hormone therapy for some women with certain types of breast cancer.
  • Opioids. Strong pain relievers given to some people with cancer.
  • Tamoxifen. A drug used to treat breast cancer in both women and men. It is also used to prevent cancer in some women.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants. A type of antidepressant drug.
  • Steroids. Used to reduce swelling. They also may be used to treat some cancers.

Medicines That Can Help

There are a few kinds of medicines that can help ease hot flashes and night sweats. But they also may cause side effects or have certain risks. Talk with your health care provider about your options. If one medicine does not work for you, your provider may try another.

  • Hormone therapy (HT). HT works well to reduce symptoms. But women need to use caution with HT. Also, women who have had breast cancer should not take estrogen. Men can use estrogen or progesterone to treat these symptoms after treatment for prostate cancer.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Clonidine (a type of blood pressure medicine).
  • Anticonvulsants.

Other Treatment Options

Some other types of treatments may help with hot flashes and night sweats.

  • Relaxation techniques or stress reduction. Learning how to decrease stress and anxiety may help relieve hot flashes in some people.
  • Hypnosis. During hypnosis, a therapist can help you relax and focus on feeling cool. Hypnosis also may help you lower your heart rate, lessen stress, and balance your body temperature, which can help reduce hot flashes.
  • Acupuncture. Although some studies have found that acupuncture can help with hot flashes, others have not found a benefit. If you are interested in acupuncture, ask your provider if it might be an option for you.

Home Treatment for Night Sweats

You can also try some simple things at home to help relieve night sweats.

  • Open windows and keep fans running to get air moving through your home.
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.
  • Try breathing deeply and slowly to help reduce symptoms.

References

American Cancer Society. Premature menopause. Updated August 19, 2013. www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/sexualityforthewoman/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer-early-menopause. Accessed October 27, 2016.

Kadakia KC, Loprinzi CL. Hot flashes. In: Berger AM, Shuster JL, Von Roenn JH, eds. Principles and Practice of Palliative Care and Supportive Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:chap 9.

National Cancer Institute. Hot flashes and night sweats (PDQ) - Health Professional Version. Updated July 16, 2016. Cancer.gov. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/sexuality-fertility-women/hot-flashes-hp-pdq. Accessed October 27, 2016.

Review Date 8/22/2016

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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