Hot flashes and night sweats are common in people with cancer, more common in women but also occurring in men. They can be a distressing symptom and affect quality of life, particularly when they frequently interrupt sleep.
Causes of Hot Flashes
The hypothalamus gland is the body’s thermostat. When it senses that the body is too hot, thy hypothalamus causes a reaction similar to a hot flash. When you have a fever and become flushed (red), feel hot and start sweating, the hypothalamus is doing its job.
When hormone levels change—as in menopause, removal of the ovaries or testicles, or hormonal treatment for breast or prostate cancer—the hypothalamus misreads the signal and thinks the body is too hot, triggering a hot flash.
Managing Hot Flashes
Hormonal, drug and non-drug approaches are available to manage hot flashes. While estrogen replacement therapy seems to be the most successful therapy for natural or treatment-induced menopause, this therapy is contraindicated in women who have or have had breast cancer, high-risk endometrial cancer or some ovarian cancers. In some of these cancers, suppressing estrogen’s growth-promoting effects on the cancer cells is crucial.2
A number of complementary approaches can help relieve or reduce the frequency of hot flashes:4
Estrogen therapy may not be an option for many women who have or have had breast cancer, and some uterine and ovarian cancers. Hormone therapy may also increase risk of breast cancer or cancer recurrence.6 Check with your physician before use.
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Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on October 18, 2018.
- National Cancer Institute:
- Hot Flashes and Night Sweats (PDQ®)–Patient Version
- Hot Flashes and Night Sweats (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version
- MedlinePlus: Cancer treatment: dealing with hot flashes and night sweats
- Cancer Research UK: Hot flushes and sweats in women
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America: Hot flashes
- For dosing and drug interactions of vitamin E, dl-phenylalanine, black cohosh and hesperiden, see Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010.
- Hill DA, Crider M, Hill SR. Hormone therapy and other treatments for symptoms of menopause. American Family Physician. 2016 Dec 1;94(11):884-889.
- Neil McKinney, BSc, ND: Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition
- Donald I. Abrams, MD, and Andrew T. Weil, MD: Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: Cancer.Net
- Wayne Jonas, MD: Your Healing Journey: A Patient’s Guide to Integrative Breast Cancer Care
- September 2018 Issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
- Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc: The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition
Enter your comments or questions below.
Don’t forget to add information about ovarian cancer and how hormone replacement therapy is off the table for alleviation of hot flashes. Zero hormones are allowed. There is a fear hormones will make the cancer grow so no estrogen is allowed. Breast cancer isn’t the only one with concerns about estrogen. Endometrioid cancer is another one fueled by estrogen.
Thank-you for your comment. We have edited this page based on further review of evidence.